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Opening Statement of Ranking Member Cummings at Hearing on IRS Conference Spending

Jun 6, 2013
Press Release
Opening Statement
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member
 
Hearing on “Collected and Wasted:
The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses”
 
June 6, 2013
 
            Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for convening today’s hearing to examine excessive spending by the IRS at a conference held in Anaheim, California in 2010.
 
            I understand that this conference occurred three years ago.  I am aware that many reforms were put in place so something like this will not happen again.  And I know many examples we will discuss today—like the ridiculous Star Trek video—have been public for some time.
 
            However, these facts do not lessen my frustration and anger at this utterly wasteful spending.  Take the Star Trek video, for example.  There is no redeeming value that I can identify in that video.  It is not only a parody of a television show, but a parody of what many people unfairly think about federal workers.
 
And it cost $50,000.  Think about that.  As a taxpayer, I am appalled.  That’s my money, that’s your money, and it was wasted.  In my district, I can tell you that $50,000 is a huge amount for families who are struggling to get by.  That’s more than many households in this country bring home in a whole year.
 
Unfortunately, this was only part of a broader problem, which was the growth of IRS conference spending over the last decade. 
 
The Inspector General’s report finds that the IRS spent approximately $48.6 million on conferences over the past three fiscal years, from 2010 to 2012.  But the IRS spent far more than that in the three prior fiscal years, from 2007 to 2009, when the IRS spent an astonishing $72 million on conferences.  According to IRS spending data, the single largest increase in conference spending occurred between 2007 and 2008, when spending jumped by more than $15 million in a single year. 
 
This is unacceptable and unnecessary.  It may be difficult to find any good news today, but at least there are some indications that things are beginning to change.
 
In 2011, after news broke about another wasteful conference held by the General Services Administration in Las Vegas, the President issued an executive order that significantly reduced travel and other expenditures across all federal agencies.
 
            In 2012, the Office of Management and Budget directed all agencies to reduce their travel expenditures by 30% below their 2010 levels.  OMB also required conferences costing more than $100,000 to be approved at the Deputy Secretary level, and it prohibited conferences over $500,000 without a waiver personally signed by the agency head. 
 
            As the result, the Inspector General’s report explains that the IRS has now cut spending on conferences by 87% since 2010.  Conference spending dropped to $6.2 million in 2011 and to less than $5 million in 2012.
 
            I am also very encouraged by the actions of the new head of the IRS, Mr. Werfel, who is here with us today.  He has been in his position for only two weeks, and he has already taken significant action to begin restoring the integrity of the IRS and holding people accountable.  In fact, as news reports today highlight, he removed two IRS employees from their positions and placed them on administrative leave for their alleged actions at this 2010 conference.
 
Mr. Werfel has a critical job ahead of him.  One of the most damaging aspects of incidents like the IRS conference in Anaheim or the GSA conference in Las Vegas is that they hurt the reputation of all government workers who commit their lives to public service. Mr. Chairman, I hope you will join me in offering our Committee’s support as he works in the weeks and months ahead.
 
As I said at our last hearing on the IRS, we must dedicate ourselves to two goals:  truth and trust.  Both goals are key, and based on his actions to date, Mr. Werfel is working to achieve them.
 
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
113th Congress