IRS clamps down on video projects

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The Internal Revenue Service has set up a process for carefully vetting videos after a series of embarrassing educational videos were uncovered several years ago featuring IRS officials and employees appearing in spoofs of TV series such as "Star Trek," "Gilligan’s Island" and "Mad Men," along with a dance music video.

A new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found the video review could still be strengthened, however. The IRS created the Service‑Wide Video Editorial Board, or SVEB, in In February 2013, not long after news reports about the agency’s more creative videos began attracting notice and derision in Congress and the press (see IRS lifts veil on Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island videos). The board was tasked with reviewing and approving all video projects planned throughout the IRS.

Lawmakers in Congress haven’t forgotten about the flap, even though it occurred years ago and the IRS is under new leadership. Each appropriations law from fiscal years 2014 through 2018 has explicitly stated that no IRS funds may be used to make a video unless the SVEB determines in advance that making the video is appropriate, taking into account the cost, topic, tone and purpose of the video.The inspector general’s new report found the IRS has implemented controls to ensure that no funds that have been made available to the IRS are spent on video productions unless the SVEB, administered by the IRS Communications and Liaison’s Visual Education Communications Branch, determines in advance that making the video is appropriate. TIGTA found that IRS business units are adhering to the SVEB review process and aren’t producing videos outside established procedures. The new approval processes take into account the projects’ estimated cost, topic, tone, and purpose. Between Oct. 1, 2015, and March 31, 2018, the SVEB reviewed 366 video project requests with estimated production costs of $873,200.

TIGTA found the IRS video projects still reach a significant number of employees and taxpayers, if not Trekkies. The videos available to employees and taxpayers have been viewed more than 5 million times, and the videos posted on the IRS’s YouTube channels have more than 13 million views, and these channels have almost 30,000 subscribers.

However, TIGTA also reviewed a sampling of 36 approved video requests along with their associated documentation and found that documentation of SVEB approvals and actual production costs could be strengthened. Of the 36 video projects reviewed by TIGTA, three lacked documentation of all the required approvals, and the IRS could provide documentation of the actual production costs of only 17 of the video projects. On top of that, TIGTA wasn’t able to determine whether six of the projects had been approved by the SVEB prior to production because the actual production dates weren’t documented.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS chief of communications and liaison ensure that sufficient documentation related to approvals, actual production dates and actual costs is maintained for each approved video project request. In response to the report, IRS management agreed with the recommendations and plans to automate the request process to ensure that proper supporting documentation is maintained.

“While the IRS has significantly reduced the costs of video production during the past several years, we agree that tracking video costs and production dates from start to finish will provide more complete information,” wrote Terry L. Lemons, chief of Communications and Liaison at the IRS, in response to the report. “We also agree with TIGTA that additional automation of the process will further enhance program accountability and help us more effectively maintain supporting documentation.”

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