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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is apologizing today after lawmakers tore into the organization for spending $50 million in taxpayer money on lavish conferences, hotel rooms, spoof videos and trinkets like squirting fish toys.
"Not only does the IRS take your money, not give you proper answers, but then when it comes to tens of millions of dollars, use it in a way that is, at best, maliciously self-indulgent," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
IRS officials have been apologizing for the expenses, with Faris Fink, the top deputy in the IRS small business and self-employed division and who portrays Star Trek character Spock in one of the parody training videos the government organization produced, calling it "embarrassing," CNN reported.
"After I saw the production, I fully regretted it," Fink said. "In hindsight, many of the expenses that were incurred at the 2010 conference should have been more closely scrutinized or not incurred at all. We would not hold this same type of meeting today."
Democrat Elijah Cummings, who was part of the committee, said that he stayed up to 3 a.m. watching the Star Trek spoof trying to find out how the cost could be justified, but could not find an explanation.
"I swear I do not see the redeeming value," Cummings said, according to Reuters.
"The money that was spent on that, that's my money," he added. "That's the lady who got the early bus this morning, that's her money."
The House oversight hearing investigated on Thursday how the IRS managed to spend $50 million taxpayer money between 2010 and 2012 – including more than $4 million on one conference in Anaheim, California in 2010, which reportedly featured lavish presidential suites, video skits and gifts for IRS employees.
USA Today reported that so far two IRS employees have been placed on administrative leave over the scandal.
"When I came to IRS, part of my job was to hold people accountable," said acting commissioner Danny Werfel. "There was clearly inappropriate behavior involved in this situation, and immediate action is needed."
The IRS is still under scrutiny for admitting last month that some of its agents had specifically targeted conservative groups for additional review during 2010 and 2012. Republicans and Democrats have blasted those revelations, with President Barack Obama promising "no tolerance" for such breaches of trust.
"If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous. And there's no place for it," Obama said.
The millions of taxpayer dollars spent on seemingly artificial expenses can only further stress relations between the public and the IRS, with Inspector General J. Russell George pointing out that some of the over-the-top expenses included $35,000 on planning trips, $64,000 on gifts and trinkets, such as squirting fish toys, and $135,000 on outside speakers.
Additionally, certain IRS officials stayed at rooms costing around $1,499 a night, while others in presidential suits that normally cost $3,500 per night.
"It would be legislative malpractice if we don't figure out what happened there," Cummings added, noting that the IRS spending on conferences doubled compared to the last years of the George W. Bush administration.