IRS workers get dance lessons on taxpayers' dime

The beleaguered agency gets slammed again for stupid practices, such as wasting $50 million on employee conferences.

By Jonathan Berr Jun 3, 2013 12:37PM
The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013. (Susan Walsh/AP)Another day, another IRS scandal. This one involves the waste of taxpayers' money on employee conferences, to the tune of $50 million.

And yet again, the wasteful practices appear on video, showing a group of IRS employees practicing The Cupid Shuffle at a 2010 managers conference in Anaheim, Calif., that reportedly cost $4 million. The workers, including one woman who had a cast on her ankle, certainly tried to get into the spirit of the occasion. Earlier, the IRS took heat over an equally stupid Star Trek parody video.

According to an internal IRS watchdog, the tax agency spent about $50 million on more than 200 employee conferences from 2010 to 2012, which new IRS acting commissioner Danny Werfel denounced as inappropriate. That's an understatement.

Policy changes have led to an "87% drop in conference costs from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2012,"  The Wall Street Journal says.

It's helpful to look at the bigger picture of why the IRS felt the need to waste money on "team-building" exercises like these videos.

Perhaps the agency's employees feel under siege. Under the best of times, working for the IRS won't win you many friends. Like many people, IRS employees haven't had raises in years, and like other government employees, they've had their share of furlough days.

Plus, as Pulitzer Prize-winning tax journalist David Cay Johnston recently noted, over the past decade, the agency's budget, adjusted for inflation and population growth, has plunged about 17%, while its workload has increased dramatically. Among its biggest challenges is dealing with the surge in requests from groups seeking tax-exempt status, which has deservedly gotten the agency into hot water for focusing particular scrutiny at conservative organizations making such requests.

What's especially disturbing about these videos is the planning that went into them. After all, they didn't produce themselves. Meetings were obviously held. Perhaps consultants were involved as well.

They're filled with inside jokes, and the "Star Trek" parody is chock-full of tax-related humor that perhaps only the most hardened of bureaucrats might find funny. Republicans, though, have found nothing humorous about these conferences, and neither should Democrats.  

What gets lost in the media bashing of the IRS is how taxpayers are getting a raw deal from the agency. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, which is an IRS office tasked with looking after the interests of consumers, the likelihood of people getting help with their tax questions from the agency is declining. 

That's an issue the IRS might want to discuss before it starts another team-building event.

Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jun 3, 2013 1:13PM
Any shock?  No?  Just another example of how wasteful modern gov't has become.  Not a Tea Party backer in any sense but let's be serious for a minute.  The gov't wastes more money on a given day than you and I can imagine.  If anyone (Congress, Obama, anyone) is truly serious about curbing gov't spending they need to take on a 'bean-counter' mentality.  EVERY single action or purchase or decision needs to have one question asked: "How much does that cost?"  Drill it into people heads.  Make it a mission statement.  Make it a company logo - anything.  Everything is negotiable - nothing is sacred.  Its a change in mindset, not policy.  If enough people/agencies/departments get behind it spending as a whole can be reduced by 10-20% without even breathing hard.  
Jun 3, 2013 2:36PM

"Team Building", in general, is a complete waste of time. 

Jun 3, 2013 2:17PM
Point being, when folks like you and those in Congress grill others, look in the mirror and keep in mind all the perks, you get. Keep in mind, all the waste your company does. Waste has become the American way. We buy to throw away. Quality is a thing of the past. Honor is a thing of the past. Actual investigative reporting, also a thing of the past.
Jun 3, 2013 4:17PM
This is the way things are in obamaland....thanks idiots.
Jun 4, 2013 6:21PM
We need to do away with the  IRS and have a fair tax.   This administration has the most crooked people I have ever seen. This and now the EPA who used a fake e-mail. One story said it was her dog's name. And this fake person was also getting paid!!!!!   See what I mean????
Jun 4, 2013 7:28PM

I saw the film "line dancing" and one woman was wearing a walking cast while dancing.  I started thinking and wondered if they were paid to do the film?   Was the woman warring the cast on dis-

ability leave from work with either state industrial or administrative sick leave?  So let me see if I

have it straight this woman could be receiving her regular salary, receiving state aide or even comp

from her employer the IRS by not being able to show up to her regular job.  But it OK to show up and

do a film and get paid for the film.  =  Reg. salary plus state comp plus insurance sick pay plus earn-

ings from the film.  All picked up by the Tax Payer.  Now you know why we are 17 Trillion dollars in

debt.  The GSA and the IRS are playing us for suckers!  Abolish the IRS use Flat Tax and close down

the GSA and hire private firms to do our Accounting and hold them responsible not to give out any

unauthorized money for stupid wasteful expenditures.

Jun 26, 2013 8:11AM

The whole organization is a black eye to the USA, much like all of Washington. We are changing from the King of nations to the court Jester!


Sep 23, 2013 5:08PM
if Lerner was responsible for these improper activities of the IRS why is she not charged with wrongdoing and punished .Is she retiring on a pension ,you bet
Sep 23, 2013 8:46PM
The IRS is so corrupt this is the new w SS  gustapo, they all need to be fired and go to jail from the top down.
The Dumb welfare Dems don't care they are all on welfare and food stamps., Obama's, Pelosii base.

Slavery is back..
Sep 23, 2013 5:38PM

No more wasteful than a President who on a whim, flies to places like Africa etc "for the good of the nation" - cost of the trip? NO KIDDING - $100 MILLION !!







Sep 23, 2013 11:54PM
Sep 23, 2013 7:38PM

I wonder if a small house construction company used dance lesson and making star trek movies as a write off if that would work.   What do you guys think?  I bet that Lerner person would audit that company. 

Sep 23, 2013 5:59PM
It is all barack hussein's fault!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jun 3, 2013 2:03PM
Johnathan, how about all the PERKS we pay for those in Congress. WE pay for congress's extra staff, their postage, meals, and just about anything else they care to come up with. So don't all of a sudden become a Saint concerning cost. Companies private and public have conferences and yes, they cost MONEY. I mean were you born Yesterday?

Add up the cost of any company private or public for all the conference calls, lunches brought in, certain folks taken out to lunch, parties, free tickets to events, etc, etc, etc. It adds up quite quickly. Private or public.

Heck, why won't your Born yesterday self talk about the many perks all the farce 501(c) types spend on themselves, all in the name of providing some bogus Public Service.

Jun 3, 2013 2:11PM
During the Bush terms, the Defense Department lost TRACK of 2.3 TRILLION dollars. Republican certainly weren't concern about that. Now you tell me they are up in Arms over 50 Million? WE kept off the Books, Billions if not Trillions related to Iraq and Afghanistan spending. We spent a Grand for a toilet seat. But you are now high and mighty worried about spending of the IRS. How about getting concerning about how farce 501(c)s are trying to steal elections.
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