Senator Orrin Hatch to IRS: Let’s Get Fiscal!
The IRS may be in bad shape due to recent budget cuts, but that doesn’t mean staffers aren’t keeping in good physical shape.
According to a letter sent by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on April 14, the IRS has been splurging on various items, like a fitness stair-climber costing more than $8,000.
Some of the other IRS expenditures cited by Hatch in the letter include kazoos and toy boats to be used in the bathtub.
The IRS has been wringing its hands over budgetary restraints the last few years. As recently as March 31, when he spoke at the National Press Club, Koskinen expressed dismay about having to do more with less, such as handling new IRS obligations under the healthcare law. The IRS’s head honcho maintains that the agency is doing a bang-up job despite the restrictions.
The IRS has seen its funding erode by more than $1.2 billion in the past five years. The agency’s fiscal year 2015 budget was set at about $10.9 billion, which is $346 million less than FY 2014. Koskinen has repeatedly noted that the budget reduction in 2015 really amounts to $600 million, with another $250 million in mandated costs and inflation factored in.
But Hatch indicated in his letter that not all the money allocated to the IRS is being well-spent. He questioned why funds are being squandered on seemingly frivolous items.
“Since your agency continues to have problems prioritizing the use of its budget, which has reduced slightly in recent years after historic growth late in the last decade, I write to offer some courtesy suggestions on spending that might be curtailed,” Hatch wrote to Koskinen.“I hope this is helpful in identifying additional areas of wasteful spending that might be better redirected elsewhere, such as helping taxpayers file their taxes.”
The letter specifically mentioned the following items:
- About $4.3 million spent on market research and public-opinion polling.
- More than $8,000 for a fitness equipment stair-climber.
- “Decorative and give-away items” costing thousands of dollars, such as plush animals, toy footballs, kazoos, bathtub toy boats, and Thomas the Tank Engine rubber wristbands for managers’ meetings.
- Almost $4 million spent on office furniture.
The IRS responded quickly to Hatch’s line of questioning. According to a Washington Examinerarticle, the agency said in a statement: “The IRS continues our efforts to find savings and efficiencies wherever we can. It’s important to note that our furniture purchases last year were essential in our efforts to combine and reduce office space, leading to more than $15 million in space-reduction savings for taxpayers. Since 2012, the IRS has reduced rent costs by more than $47 million each year.
“Many of the spending items the agency has been criticized for date back several years,” the statement continued. “IRS policies have been overhauled in these areas. For example, the 2013 [Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration] report on decorative items covers fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The IRS agreed years ago these were not appropriate expenditures and banned spending on such items.”
Koskinen, who has been serving as IRS commissioner for more than a year and a half, is attempting to improve the public image of the IRS in the wake of the Tea Party scandal involving the extra scrutiny of tax-exempt applications for conservative-oriented groups and several other black eyes. Notably, the IRS was criticized for authorizing lavish spending at conferences for staffers and wasting money on comedic video spoofs for training purposes.
Now the Thomas the Tank Engine jokes are sure to follow.
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Ken Berry, Esq., is a nationally known writer and editor specializing in tax, financial, and legal matters. During his long career, he has served as managing editor of a publisher of content-based marketing tools and vice president of an online continuing education company. As a freelance writer, Ken has authored thousands of articles for a...