The IRS' $50 million bill for conferences from 2010 to 2012 came to light Sunday, and now the government branch responsible for the nation's taxes is under scrutiny from various critics. The Treasury Department's inspector general and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unearthed the large sum, which resulted in dramatic action being taken to reduce spending.
The IRS spent $50 million for at least 220 conferences over three years, according to government watchdog investigations. The Obama administration has already taken steps to address the issues, with the President replacing the acting commissioner and two other high officials stepping down.
"This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era," Werfel said Friday, addressing one conference that cost taxpayers $4 million. "While there were legitimate reasons for holding the metting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred."
Some of the expenses for the $4 million conference held in Anaheim, Calif. in August of 2010 included room rates that were not negotiated for a lower rate; benefits for some of the 2,600 attendees like baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites; and 15 outside speakers paid $135,000 in fees- one was given $17,000 to speak on "leadership through art," according to the House Committee.
Werfel, who formerly worked for the White House's Office of Management and Budget, said decreasing excessive personal travel is "a personal priority for me" and that U.S. taxpayers "should take comfort that a conference like this would not take place today."
However, many still express skepticism, especially in light of the recent scandals at the IRS: for 18 months between 2010 and 2012, IRS officials allowed screening to take place to deny conservative and tea party groups tax-exempt status. No such screening took place for left-leaning organizations, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) suggested the IRS has promised change before with little results.
"Understand that some of the things that they're saying, 'Well, this wouldn't happen again,' they would still happen again," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "So they end up with free drinks, they ended up with tickets to games, basically kickbacks," he added, referring to the Anaheim conference.
However, there has been some spending reduction in the IRS since the investigations from government watchdog organizations began. Large agency conference spending with more than 50 participants fell from $37.6 million in 2010 to $4.9 million in 2012, according to IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge.