IRS Drama: Free Food Is the Latest Embarrassment

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The IRS scandal is starting to trickle down the hierarchy, as two employees have been placed on leave after accepting free food at a 2010 conference in Anaheim. The Anaheim conference is the subject of a hearing today on Capitol Hill, where Congress is continually feuding with the agency.

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The free food violates the government’s ethics standards, according to an unnamed congressional aide. One of the employees worked in the division handling the President’s healthcare law. The employees accepted $1,100 in free food at the conference which cost the IRS over $4.1 million, making it the most expensive in the chain of 225 gatherings the IRS held between 2010 and 2012. The total cost of these conferences was $49 million.

The Anaheim conference was the site of the now infamous “Star Trek” parody, where employees dressed up as characters from the show and acted out various scenes. Faris Fink, commissioner of the division that ran the event, is slated to testify in Congress along with acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel. Fink appeared in the “Star Trek” video as Spock and stayed in a president suite while in Anaheim.

The excess spending hasn’t been limited to the IRS, either. Other agencies have been living large, with Department of Veterans Affairs employees accepting gifts including massages, as well as spending over $760,000 on unauthorized and wasteful expenses last year, according to the agency’s inspector general. The costs were incurred at conferences in Florida. The General Services Administration had a good time as well; a Las Vegas event saw employees treated to a mind reader, clown, and bike building exercise totaling $823,000. The events forced then GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, to resign.

Werfel has been placed in a tough position since assuming the role of acting IRS commissioner, having been thrown into the fire and trying to make amends for his predecessor’s shortcomings. In response to learning that employees were accepting free food, Werfel said that, “When I came to IRS, part of my job was to hold people accountable. There was clearly inappropriate behavior involved in this situation, and immediate action is needed.” One of the employees allegedly involved in the food debacle is Fred Schindler, director of implementation oversight for the IRS division that will administer the health-care law.

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Several people have spoken out about what they see as a larger problem. Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste called it “material weakness,” and that “This is part and parcel of a problem that is marbled throughout federal agencies.” More importantly Paige noted, it makes agency complaints against increased spending less credible in the face of substantial wasted money.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has taken his criticism one step further, proposing that the federal government abolish the IRS all together.

“I think we ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax where the average American can fill out taxes on postcard. Put down how much you earn, put down a deduction for charitable contributions, home mortgage and how much you owe. It ought to be a simple one-page postcard, and take the agents, the bureaucracy out of Washington and limit the power of government,” Cruz said in an interview last weekend.

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