New Castle News

June 5, 2013

Our Opinion: IRS conferences take advantage of public funds

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Things aren’t getting any better for the Internal Revenue Service.

In fact, the credibility of the nation’s tax collection organization seems to be eroding away as Americans look on with disgust.

Fresh on the heels of allegations IRS officials used inappropriate tactics to delay tax-exempt approval for conservative organizations, comes a government watchdog report that shows the agency spending $4.1 million for a training conference in California, where agency officials received luxury rooms.

While the room rates were significantly discounted, the arrangement violated IRS rules, which instead require negotiations for cheaper rates for regular rooms.

In one instance, the report by the Treasury inspector general found an IRS official staying in a room with a regular rate of $3,500 a night. It was one of the more glaring examples of excess that looked at 225 employee conferences from 2010 to 2012 that cost $49 million.

Now, we don’t mean to imply that training and conferences for IRS employees are automatically a waste of public funds. We are sure there is at least some value in these sessions.

But how much value? We can’t say, but acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel has called the conferences “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.”

Translation: They are a waste of money and one that has been going on for some time.

So we suppose the news is mixed. On one hand, it’s a long-term example of excess. On the other, it’s one that may be coming to an end, now that the IRS is under a congressional and public microscope.

Unfortunately, it seems to take some sort of scandal to bring spending abuses along these lines to light. The IRS is hardly the first government agency to violate the public trust by spending money in reckless and self-indulgent fashion.

It is, sadly, an example of what happens when too little attention is paid to the use of public funds. Without tough oversight, it becomes increasingly easier to spend other people’s money in frivolous ways. This is the sort of story the public has observed countless times in terms of the wasted tax dollars.

And it’s the sort of thing that gives editorial writers an easy target for expressing indignant outrage.

Unfortunately, it’s also the sort of thing that seems to never end. While there will be structural reforms within the IRS to tighten standards, it is only a matter of time before similar abuses crop up at some other government agency. Without constant attention, fiscal discipline fades over time.

But when it comes to the IRS, the problem is perhaps worse than normal. After all, this is the agency entrusted to collect tax dollars, and it expects taxpayers to follow all its rules — or else. It ought to lead by example.