Anyone who has worked for a large company in recent years has endured the time-wasting indignity of a conference. It might have been a conference devoted to diversity, sensitivity, creativity, or some similarly nebulous concept such as teamwork or “thinking outside the box,” but in every case it was countless hours of notebooks and buzzwords and other distractions from work that needed to be done.
There was some satisfaction, then, in learning that employees of the Internal Revenue Service have been subjected to much the same tortures inflicted on their private-sector counterparts. One can also hope that it kept them from hours of harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Still, the extraordinary cost and unusual stupidity of the activities constitute yet another outrage by the scandal-plagued agency.
The IRS conference held in California in 2010 featured $60,000 worth of videos that parodied “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” with bureaucratic in-jokes, $135,000 worth of speakers fees that bought a “happiness expert” and a sketch artist who hosted a “Leadership Through Art” session, and a dance lesson of undisclosed cost that forced the middle-aged and slightly overweight workers to bust a few disco moves for reasons that are also undisclosed. Baseball tickets, presidential suites, the sketch artist’s portrait of the rock star Bono, and other perquisites were offered to the participants as compensation for sitting or dancing through such balderdash, and according to an Inspector General’s report it all added up to a total cost of $4 million, with another $46 million or so for another 220 conferences over the past two years.
That’s chump change by federal government standards, and the agency’s few sympathizers will likely insist that the money was well spent on improving employee morale and exposing them to innovative ways of thinking, but it’s irksome nonetheless. To whatever extent these exercises actually improve employee performance they only allowed the workers to target their ideological opponents more ruthlessly, and surely someone out there in the vast free market is willing to spout to gibberish to the country’s bureaucrats at a lower cost to the taxpayer. We’d be quite willing to do the job for a mere half the $4 million cost of the conference, and we wouldn’t make anyone dance.
At the very least, it neatly refutes the argument that the IRS scandals are a result of the stingy Republicans’ crazy insistence on budget-cutting. The notion that IRS agents were forcing groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” on the applications to countless hours of extra questioning and paperwork because they were under-staffed never made any sense to begin with, but revelations about the agency’s profligate party budget makes it all the more absurd.
Anyone who has worked for a large company in recent years has probably seen down-sizing and budget-cutting, and he’se likely noticed that one of the few benefits to the process is that he spend less time in conferences. It’s time the folks at the IRS have the same experience.
— Bud Norman