- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The IRS spent millions of dollars on polling and more than $8,000 on a stair climber, a key senator revealed Tuesday, even as the agency is pleading poverty and begging Congress to boost its budget in order to do better customer service.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, fired off a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen asking why the agency spent nearly $4 million on office furniture, $4.3 million on polling and “market research” and thousands of dollars on trinket giveaways such as IRS stuffed animals or “Thomas the Tank Engine” rubber wristbands.

The spending comes at a time when the IRS, blaming budget cuts, says it has had to ignore most taxpayers’ help calls this tax season.

“Since your agency continues to have problems prioritizing the use of its budget, which has reduced slightly in recent years after historic growth late in the last decade, I write to offer some courtesy suggestions on spending that might be curtailed. … I hope this is helpful in identifying additional areas of wasteful spending that might be better redirected elsewhere, such as helping taxpayers file their taxes,” Mr. Hatch wrote.

Mr. Koskinen has asked for billions of dollars in new spending in 2016 in order to get his agency back on track, and told Congress last month that he’s solved many of the big spending problems that plagued the IRS just a few years ago.

In a statement Tuesday, the IRS said the $4 million in furniture purchases was part of a reorganization designed to reduce the agency’s office footprint, which will save $15 million overall. The IRS said it’s already saving $47 million a year in lower rent costs because of other reductions.

And the IRS said the some of the spending items Mr. Hatch pointed to are several years old, and have been addressed.

“The IRS agreed years ago these were not appropriate expenditures and banned spending on such items,” the agency said.

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