The IRS has already raked a nationwide scandal because of its abuse of power in targeting conservative groups. Now, details have emerged of a $4.1 million training conference where senior IRS officials enjoyed luxury hotel rooms, free food and drinks.
According to a report by J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, as much as 132 IRS officials were upgraded to more luxurious rooms at the conference. The IRS paid a $135 flat fee per room, but the upgrades were part of a package deal. The cost of the upgrades was added to the total cost incurred at the conference.
One IRS official stayed in a $3,500 room for five nights. Another official, Faris Fink, who heads the division that conducted the conference, stayed in a $1,499 room per night for four nights. After the controversy, Fink explained his stance to a House committee, where he said that spending $4.1 million at a conference should have been scrutinized. He added that the new IRS rules do not allow such expensive conferences.
The IRS is already facing heat over the political bias controversy, and took immediate disciplinary action on two employees found guilty of accepting free items during a conference in 2010. Sources identify one employee as Fred Schindler, a 15-year veteran of the IRS who is a senior official implementing Obama’s healthcare law. He and the other employee, whose identity has not been revealed, were suspended from service.
The new acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel commented on the controversy, saying that the agency had “started the process to remove the employees pending further review.” He said that the two employees were placed on an administrative leave. “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,” he added.
It is at a tough time that Werfel has taken on the new responsibilities, but a greater challenge lies ahead of Werfel and the IRS. It is to ensure that the IRS remain clean of malpractices at all times after the guilty are penalized.