WASHINGTON -- A government watchdog has found that the Internal Revenue Service spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, according to a House committee.
That total included $4 million for an August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including staying in expensive presidential suites. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the House committee said.
The report by Treasury Department's inspector general, set to be released Tuesday, comes as the IRS already is facing bipartisan criticism after agency officials disclosed they had targeted tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.
Agency officials and the Obama administration have said that treatment was inappropriate. But the political tempest is showing no signs of ebbing and has put the White House on the defensive. Three congressional committees are investigating and a Justice Department criminal investigation is underway, and President Barack Obama has replaced the IRS's acting commissioner while two other top officials have stepped aside.
On Friday, the new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, released a statement on the forthcoming report criticizing the Anaheim meeting.
"This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era," Werfel said. "While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred."