- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

An IRS manager who starred as “Mr. Spock” in an ill-fated Star Trek motivational video for agency employees was on the hot seat Thursday morning over a recent inspector general’s report detailing a $4.1 million IRS conference in California several years ago.

Faris Fink, commissioner of the agency’s Small Business/Self-Employed Division Commissioner, was contrite during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, saying he was embarrassed that the video — produced for employees during the conference — was ever made.

He did say the division has 24,000 employees and 30 percent of the managers were new, but that “in hindsight, many of the expenses incurred should have been more closely scrutinized or should not have been incurred at all” at the 2010 conference in Anaheim.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, said that both federal workers who weren’t involved and the taxpaying public should be “appalled” that there are seemingly two standards — “one for some and one for the rest.”

“We want the culture to be, ‘spend it, and spend it wisely,’” Mr. Issa said.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel’s ranking Democrat, also tore into Mr. Fink. He said he was awake at 3 a.m. Thursday morning trying to find any redeeming value to the Star Trek video — and that he was unable to find any.

He said the money spent at the conference was not the property of the government, but of his constituents earning $35,000 or $40,000 a year.

On Wednesday, the IRS put two officials on administrative leave for their involvement in the 2010 California conference.

The inspector general’s report released this week highlighted the $4.1 million California conference, but also pointed to more than 200 other conferences the agency held over the last two years that had 50 or more employees in attendance.

Inspector General J. Russell George, who also testified at the hearing Thursday, identified a number of potential problems with the California conference, including spending $15,669 on commemorative tote bags, $19,210 on lanyards, travel mugs and picture frames with the IRS division’s logo, and $27,000 on promotional giveaways such as engraved pens, can coolers and “Post-it” notes.

He said IRS employees accepted room upgrades in exchange for paying the full per-diem nightly rate, when they could have instead taken regular rooms and tried to negotiate down the price.

The IRS also violated its own tax rules by letting some local California employees stay at the posh Anaheim hotels without requiring them to pay taxes on the per-diem expenses.

And the IRS couldn’t even provide documentation to prove that the $4.1 million price tag included all of the costs the agency incurred to host the conference.

IRS officials say they have taken steps to cut conferences and control costs since 2010.

Indeed, while the agency spent $37.6 million on conferences in 2010, it spent only $6.2 million in 2011 and just $4.9 million in 2012. The number of conferences and the total number of attendees also dropped.

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