- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2013

Struck by another brewing scandal at the IRS, the White House said Monday that President Obama is “concerned” about new reports of wasteful spending by the agency on conferences that included high-dollar suites for government employees.

“He doesn’t think that conduct is appropriate,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said of Mr. Obama. “He is concerned by — and has been — excessive spending by the IRS and other agencies when it comes to conferences and travel, and has taken action accordingly.”

On Sunday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said that the IRS spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012. The Treasury Department’s inspector general is to release a report on the wasteful spending Tuesday.

At an August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., the IRS reportedly paid for presidential suites at hotels which currently cost between $1,500 to $3,500 per night. The agency spent $4 million for the conference, and 15 outside speakers at the conference were paid a total of $135,000.

Various investigations are already probing why the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny.

Mr. Carney said White House officials haven’t seen the new IG report yet, but said new acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the expenses “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.”

The administration said the IRS didn’t hold any similar large-scale meetings in 2011, 2012 or this year, and that new spending restrictions have been put in place.

Mr. Carney also said that Mr. Obama “has made creating an efficient and effective government a priority, a cornerstone of his administration.”

“The federal government’s spending on travel, which includes conference activity, was reduced by more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2012 as compared to fiscal year 2010,” Mr. Carney said. “On travel spending, agencies have lowered their spending on travel, compared to FY 2010 levels by roughly $2 billion. The Department of Agriculture, for example, reduced travel costs by over $125 million. These are examples that illustrate a commitment the president has to wringing out waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

But asked what the president is doing to cut travel costs, Mr. Carney said, essentially, not much.

“The president is president of the United States 24 hours a day and seven days a week, as was the case with every one of the president’s predecessors,” he said. “And the nature of the way that he travels is very much a part of the office that he holds and is a requirement of that office. And he needs to be able to conduct his presidency in order to fulfill his obligation to the American people and the oath he took.”

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