What to expect from the IRS crackdown
(Emergency revisions to conference-planning guidelines for the Internal Revenue Service.)
To all state and regional IRS managers:
As a result of the critical government report about our agency's 2010 convention in Anaheim, Calif., the following changes are being implemented immediately.
1. Funds are hereby terminated for all future training videos, including but not limited to “Cupid Shuffle” line dancing and “Star Trek” parodies.
This rule is retroactive, which means that, sadly, we are canceling the “Game of Thrones” parody that is now in production at our Cincinnati office.
(I screened the rough cut of the video and it was impressive. The costuming was authentic, and I thought Herm from our 401(c) Task Force totally nailed it as Tyrion Lannister — especially that British accent! Unfortunately, building a medieval castle on the set cost way more than all those puny tea party returns could ever bring in.)
Another casualty of the new spending rules is the multimedia dance video that was to be featured during our coming convention in August. The entire Birmingham office has been working out some smooth moves every afternoon (between audits) for nearly a year.
I'm told the choreography and exotic stagecraft put the Cupid Shufflers to shame. Unfortunately, because of the recent controversy, we won't get to see Big Ira and the Itemizers show off their Gangnam-style groove.
2. Funds are hereby terminated for the hiring of event planners for IRS conferences.
As the inspector general noted, the agency spent more than $133,000 on three outside planners to secure our hotels and catering arrangements in Anaheim. The inspector general's view is that taxpayer money could be more prudently spent and I agree.
From now on, all convention planning will be done in house by IRS personnel utilizing websites such as “Google” and “Bing,” which I am told will actually provide current information about hotel pricing in almost any city.
Apparently even the phone numbers of hotels are available online, thereby eliminating the need for our agency to pay an outside contractor to find the numbers and dial them. Who knew?
3. Funds are hereby eliminated for so-called “scouting trips” to IRS conference sites in advance of the event.
Back in 2010, we dispatched 25 employees in the months before the big annual convention, at a cost of about $36,000. The harsh criticism now being heaped upon our agency overlooks the steep logistical challenges in a city as cosmopolitan and confusing as Anaheim.
To simulate the tourist experience, a squad of our designated convention scouts went to Disneyland to navigate the intimidating labyrinths of Mickey's Toontown and Splash Mountain.
Others ventured to an Angels baseball game, where it's not uncommon for zestful visitors to become disoriented and require police escorts from the ballpark.
All scouting exercises were conducted in order to steer convention attendees away from local pitfalls. From now on, however, agency guidance will be limited to providing detailed street maps and portable Breathalyzers.
4. Funds are hereby eliminated for hiring outside speakers to address IRS conferences.
In Anaheim the agency paid more than $135,000 in fees to 15 different speakers. The well-meaning effort, meant to motivate and inspire our managers, has become part of the nasty media controversy.
One speaker who received $27,000 got up and told us that “seemingly random combinations of ideas can drive radical innovations.”
Another paid guest speed-painted portraits of six famous persons to dramatize the value of creative thinking. For the record, not one of the Kardashians was featured as a portrait subject, yet still the backlash has been intense.
The total cost of the Anaheim shindig was $4.1 million, part of $37.5 million spent by the IRS in 2010 on conferences, meetings and conventions. Those days are over, as you are all aware, because the Obama administration cracked down the following year.
In 2012 the agency spent only $4.8 million on conventions, and we're committed to reducing our partying budget even more. This year all our speakers will be unpaid.
Linda in our east Portland office has volunteered to present the keynote (“Re-Thinking Form 8949 — Whither Short-Term Capital Assets?”). Afterward she'll be doing pencil sketches of your favorite family pet, so don't forget to bring snapshots!
Yours in service,
Acting IRS Commissioner (for now) Danny Werfel
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald.