WASHINGTON (AP) — A government watchdog has found that the Internal Revenue Service spent about $50 million to hold about 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, according to a House committee.
That total included $4 million for an August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including staying in expensive presidential suites. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about “leadership through art,” the House committee said.
The report by Treasury Department’s inspector general, set to be released this week, comes as the IRS already is facing bipartisan criticism after agency officials disclosed they had targeted tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.
Agency officials and the Obama administration have said that treatment was inappropriate. But the political tempest is showing no signs of ebbing and has put the White House on the defensive. Three congressional committees are investigating and a Justice Department criminal investigation is underway.
According to congressional aides briefed by the inspector general’s office, the IRS also did not formally seek competitive bids for the city where the agency’s 2010 conference was held, for the event planner who assisted the agency, or for the speakers.
The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a confidential congressional briefing, said other benefits given to some attendees at the Anaheim IRS conference included vouchers for free drinks and some tickets to attend Angels baseball games.
“So they end up with free drinks, they ended up with tickets to games, basically kickbacks,” the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Two videos produced by the IRS were shown at the Anaheim conference. In one, agency employees did a parody of “Star Trek” while dressed like the TV show’s characters; the second shows more than a dozen IRS workers dancing on a stage. The two cost the agency more than $50,000 to make, aides said.
The lecturer who spoke about art through leadership produced six paintings while speaking with subjects that included Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, the rock singer Bono and the Statue of Liberty, the aides said.