By Ken Berry
Responding to criticism by a high-ranking member of the House's tax-writing committee, the IRS now admits it should have scuttled a quirky video based on the iconic Star Trek TV show. But the agency continues to maintain that another video parody, this one based on Gilligan's Island, should not be cast away.
Both parodies were shot at a special studio where the IRS has produced numerous YouTube videos designed to educate taxpayers and practitioners. The IRS presented the Star Trek clip at a training and leadership conference in 2010, while the Gilligan's Island segment was used to train its staffers nationwide. The combined price tag for the two videos was $60,000.
Back on February 11, Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr. (R-LA) sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller requesting that the IRS turn over copies of the videos. When Miller responded on March 4, he acknowledged the existence of the parodies, but did not take any further action. Boustany then followed up with a second request on March 20.
In a prepared statement to the media, the IRS said the six-minute Star Trek video "was a well-intentioned, light-hearted introduction to an important conference." It opens with a variation on the well-known theme. "These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise Y. Its never-ending mission: to seek out new tax forms, to explore strange new regulations, to boldly go where no government employee has gone before."
The plot centers around the efforts of the Enterprise crew, seeking to help the planet "Notax" that is plagued with money laundering, tax evasion using "off-planet accounts", and alien identity theft. It features iconic characters from the Star Trek series, such as Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, engineer Scotty, and crew member Chekov.
But now the IRS is charting a different course. "The IRS recognizes and takes seriously our obligation to be good stewards of government resources and taxpayer dollars", the statement said. "There is no mistaking that this video did not reflect the best stewardship of resources."
The IRS is currently facing increased pressure to cut costs due to the budget sequester.
Conversely, with the Gilligan's Island video, the IRS believes it is on firmer ground. In the video, the castaways discuss "Field Assistance TACs" and explain ways to best assist taxpayers. The spoof is rife with inside jokes and puns, but it contains far more instructional material than the Star Trek video. The IRS claims that its program using such videos for training purposes saved an estimated $1.5 million in travel reduction and other costs in 2011.