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LAMBRO: Scandal stranger than science fiction
Team Obama tests the outer limits of outrage
President Obama is being hit by new scandals almost weekly in a growing web of investigations and revelations that have further damaged his troubled administration.
The U.S. Treasury's inspector general released a new report Tuesday saying the Internal Revenue Service spent $50 million on 220 conferences for IRS employees over a three-year period beginning in 2010.
Despite annual federal budget deficits of more than $1 trillion throughout Mr. Obama's first term, the inspector general found many of the IRS' expenditures to be downright wasteful.
In one of its findings, the IRS focused on a conference in Anaheim, Calif. — home of Disneyland — where about 2,600 employees in the agency's small-business division gathered for a little fun and relaxation paid for by the American people. In a conference that cost taxpayers about $4.1 million, IRS workers were shown two training videos that cost at least $60,000 to produce. One of them was a parody of "Star Trek" in which employees, wearing "Star Trek"-style uniforms in a full-scale mock-up of the bridge of the starship Enterprise, talked about how to ferret out tax fraud.
In the video, an IRS employee portraying the Russian character Pavel Chekov tells one of his colleagues, "Back in Russia, I dreamed someday I'd be rich and famous."
"Me, too. That's why I became a public servant," his starship colleague replies.
In the other video, IRS employees are seen dancing the "Cupid Shuffle," as a female IRS agent remarks, "They don't pay me enough to do this."
Two keynote speakers together at the conference were paid at least $44,000, plus $2,000 for first-class air travel. In one of the speeches about how art influences leadership, the speaker painted six paintings and gave two to them to IRS employees attending the event.
"The outrage toward the IRS is only growing stronger. Clearly, this is an agency where abuse and waste is the norm and not the exception," said Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee.
This latest IRS scandal comes on the heels of the inspector general's bombshell disclosure that dozens of conservative groups that filed for tax-exempt status were targeted by the IRS for intensive, delay-provoking scrutiny. That scandal forced the resignation of the IRS' acting commissioner and led to a wave of congressional hearings and investigations, a Justice Department criminal probe and calls in Congress for a special prosecutor.
Then there was a troubling report from the U.S. Labor Department's inspector general, who charged that the Job Corps has badly mismanaged its budgeting operations by allowing program costs to rise far above its appropriations. The inspector general said out-of-control spending led to $60 million in red ink.
The Job Corps has been one of Mr. Obama's pet agencies over the course of his presidency as the White House has sought to boost its budget in the midst of persistently high unemployment over the past 4 years.
The report "sheds new light on the persistent failure to adequately budget, plan and monitor costs," said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, who asked for the audit. Jane Oates, the department official who headed the Job Corps when the budget deficit occurred, resigned last month.
More recently, a lengthy investigation by The Associated Press revealed Tuesday that a number of appointees in the Obama administration have been using "secret email accounts" that raised suspicions they may be attempting to circumvent future investigations or public inquiries.
"The secret email accounts complicate an agency's legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests, because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them," the AP news wire service reported.
"Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions," the AP pointedly said.
One of the administration's top Cabinet officials using a secret government email account is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been in the thick of Mr. Obama's continuing controversies and legal fights over his health care law.
How secret is Mrs. Sebelius's off-the-books email account? Google, the global search engine, said it could not find any reference on the Internet to her email address.
This is a tightly closed administration that zealously guards its secrets to the point where the Justice Department has secretly seized and searched the phone records of Washington journalists and the emails of a Fox News reporter — another scandal that has triggered a rash of investigative hearings in the House and Senate.
Part of that widening investigation centers on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, when he said he was not involved in the "potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material."
"This is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, [or] would think would be wise policy," Mr. Holder said.
News accounts have reported that Mr. Holder signed off on the decision to obtain the Fox News reporter's emails, and Republicans are looking into whether he lied under oath when he made that statement.
These investigations — plus ongoing inquiries into the administration's misinformation about the deadly terrorist attacks at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed — cast a darkening cloud of scandal and possibly criminal activity over Mr. Obama's second term.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, says Mr. Obama has become "mired" in a swamp of scandals and that "the president's credibility obviously is at stake here."
A Gallup poll on Monday said Mr. Obama's job-approval score has sunk to 47 percent, a 12-month low, and, lately, the West Wing is increasingly sounding like it's coming unglued.
As Mr. McCain observed Monday on CBS' "This Morning" in a delicious bit of understatement, administration officials are "not covering themselves with distinction here."
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.
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