By Ken Berry
A high-ranking member of the tax-writing committee in Congress is demanding the IRS release copies of two video parodies produced with taxpayer money. The videos, which spoof the iconic TV shows Star Trek and Gilligan's Island, were shot at the IRS' television studio in Maryland. The studio allegedly cost taxpayers more than $4 million last year.
In a strongly worded letter sent to IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller on March 20, House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-LA) called for the IRS to turn over the videos to the committee. Boustany had written the IRS previously on February 11, requesting information about the production of the Star Trek parody and the skit based on Gilligan's Island.
Boustany is citing the need for transparency. He wants the IRS to release the videos to show that IRS resources are being used properly and efficiently. The letter also asks the IRS to provide a complete accounting of studio production expenses. These requests come at a time when the IRS, like other federal agencies, is facing increased pressure to cut costs.
For its part, the IRS acknowledged the existence of the two videos in a written response to Boustany's February letter. However, the nation's tax collector has not complied with the request to provide copies of the videos to the committee.
Boustany responded to Miller by noting that the production studio enables the IRS to provide education and training to large audiences, both within the IRS and to the public, often while reducing travel and other costs associated with such programs. But then he concluded",This explanation sounds both plausible and reasonable. However, your agency's refusal to timely produce copies of the IRS parody videos to the committee is unacceptable."
Miller admitted that the IRS spent $60,000 to produce the two video parodies. He explained in his response letter that the videos have been used to train IRS employees on a wide range of topics, including tax law updates, strategic issues, and employee management and safety issues. Furthermore, Miller pointed out that the IRS uses its video studio for numerous and varied purposes, including a "virtual town hall" attended by more than four thousand IRS managers last year - without them having to travel. The studio also is used to produce its YouTube videos for the benefit of taxpayers and practitioners. The YouTube videos have been viewed more than four million times.
Boustany insists that Miller's offer to "make both videos available for viewing" isn't sufficient. "While committee staff agreed to travel to the IRS and view the videos as an initial matter, it continued to be the prerogative of the committee to insist that a copy of the video be provided", he stated. "Since then the request for the Star Trek video has been reiterated, but the IRS has refused to comply."
The IRS has already been forced to cut expenses the last two years. Due to the budget sequester, it recently announced additional plans for unpaid furloughs for employees starting this summer, reductions in expenses for travel and enforcement activities, and cutbacks in payments to whistleblowers.