And just when you thought a federal agency responsible for wasting literally millions of taxpayer dollars couldn’t sink any lower, it turns out it can.
The Internal Revenue Service in 2008 held a massive and “lavish” employee conference in Atlanta that included an “open bar, elaborate hors d’oeuvres and a video of agency employees dressed as Olympic athletes with makeshift torches,” The Hill reports.
The three-day conference has been described as “very lavish” and “over the top” by at least two employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The cost of the 2008 conference to U.S. taxpayers? Roughly $2.4 million.
“The ‘grand finale’ of the conference,” the report continues, “was an awards dinner at the Georgia Aquarium catered by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.”
Discounted tickets were available for two social events (trips to the aquarium and a baseball game between the Chicago cubs and Atlanta Braves), but employees were required to pay out of pocket for those.
“I had not been to anything like that, certainly not put on by the federal government,” one of The Hill’s anonymous sources said. “It was first rate, all the way.”
The other source weighed in: “It was very lavish … the training courses themselves were helpful and informative, but the culture of excess permeated this [conference], including the opening video, the opening-night cocktail and hors d’ouevres reception.”
The roughly 1,500 attendees were given leather portfolios as party favors.
In a statement to The Hill, the agency said, “The size and details of [the] 2008 conference reflect a different era at the IRS. While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, a number of the expenses associated with it would not occur today under our tough new guidelines.”
Conference goers were treated to a video featuring IRS employees in different parts of the country dressed in athletic gear and carrying torches. The video was themed after the Olympics in honor of Atlanta hosting in 2008
A few have stepped forward to defend the conference.
“David Canale of Ernst & Young said it allowed all of the IRS chief counsels across the nation to get together for the first time,” The Hill notes, saying he characterized the confab as “well organized” and “a typical government conference.”
“I wouldn’t say it was lavish by any means,” Canale said, later admitting he did not see the video.
Former IRS chief counsel Donald Korb said, “There is no mystery here. It’s really simple. We took the Chief Counsel CLE training budget for the entire year for all of the different Chief Counsel functions and took advantage of the cost savings [and] economy of scale of having one large CLE as opposed to several smaller ones by doing it all in one place at one time in Atlanta.
“Who would hold a so-called ‘lavish’ event in Atlanta in the middle of August? In any event, the Congress itself had approved the spending of these funds for this purpose since the money for CLE training for our lawyers — required in many states in order for them to be able to maintain their licenses to practice law — was included as part of Chief Counsel’s annual budget.”
Click here to read the full Hill report.
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