IRS Keeps a Lid on Conference Spending after Star Trek Video Uproar

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The Internal Revenue Service is doing a better job of controlling its spending on conferences after the IRS faced ridicule three years ago for spending on an embarrassing series of training videos for conferences.

The videos included parodies of “Star Trek,” “Gilligan’s Island,” "Mad Men" and a dance video (see IRS Lifts Veil on Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island Videos, IRS Music Dance Video Released by Congress, and IRS Released “Mad Men” Parody CPE Video). Their release came amidst the uproar over so-called “targeting” of Tea Party and other political groups by the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit charged with reviewing applications for tax-exempt status, leading to the resignations of several high-ranking IRS officials.

The IRS has since learned from its errors. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report Monday that found the IRS has updated its policies and procedures related to its spending on government conferences.

The report released Monday is a follow-up audit to a May 2013 TIGTA audit report titled Review of the IRS’s August 2010 Small Business/Self-Employed Division’s Conference in Anaheim, California. That report detailed a lack of controls and several questionable expenditures at an IRS conference that cost over $4 million.

The overall objectives of the review were to determine whether the IRS implemented corrective actions in response to TIGTA’s previous recommendations and to evaluate the IRS’s approval and reporting process for conference and event spending exceeding established thresholds.

In the latest audit, TIGTA found that the IRS addressed all nine recommendations that TIGTA made in its 2013 report.

“Our auditors found that, during Fiscal Year 2013 and 2014, the IRS approved and reported, as required, almost 99 percent of the training and conference events we reviewed,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “It is imperative that agencies effectively manage conference and event spending to ensure that taxpayer funds are used efficiently.”

Excessive conference and event spending by federal agencies has been highlighted by recent Inspector General reports and the subject of congressional hearings. In November 2011, President Obama signed Executive Order 13589 to eliminate excessive spending and promote more efficiency in the federal government, specifically directing agencies to control costs associated with conference spending.

In the new audit report, TIGTA made several additional recommendations on improving the management of event approval and reporting, including issuing a single list of all events with spending budgets over $100,000 to the Treasury Department to ensure public reporting and the centralized retention of event approval and reporting documentation.

In response to the report, the IRS agreed with TIGTA’s recommendations, stating that it has developed and implemented corrective actions to address the recommendations. The actions include plans to provide the Treasury Department, in January of each year, detailed information on events that cost in excess of $100,000 for the preceding year, and, beginning in October 2015, to maintain event approval and reporting information in one centralized location.

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