Government officials are masters of multitasking, lamenting the shortage of taxpayers dollars while simultaneously squandering them.
Most taxpayers fondly hope that the money they send to the federal government will be spent wisely, not extravagantly. Most taxpayers' hopes are routinely dashed by news reports that demonstrate how little respect some government workers have for tax dollars.
That grim reality has been demonstrated anew by news reports of misconduct within the Internal Revenue Service. No, this is not about how the all-powerful tax agency targeted conservative groups for special reviews based solely on their political outlook. It's about the IRS lavishly spending money on luxurious employee conferences that include taxpayer-financed entertainment, shockingly expensive training films and lush hotel rooms for IRS bigwigs.
The details are outlined in a recent report prepared by IRS Inspector General J. Russell George, who reported that the IRS spent $49 million on 225 conferences from fiscal years 2010-2012.
In what must be one of the great understatements in history, George opined that such spending does "not appear to be a good use of taxpayer funds," particularly at a time when the federal government is running huge deficits and is supposed to be putting a higher premium on efficiency.
This is not the first time a federal agency has been embarrassed by its excessive spending at an employee conference. A four-day junket in Las Vegas for 300 employees of the General Services Administration drew similar public scorn after it was revealed.
The spending by the IRS was as bad, if not worse. A conference speaker was paid $27,000 plus a $2,500 plane ticket to give two one-hour speeches. If one can believe it, another speaker earned $11,430 to give workshops on how to increase the on-the-job happiness of IRS managers. The IRS hired outside event planners who were paid $133,000 and spent $36,000 to send about 25 employees to Anaheim, Calif., to scout out the area's potential for a conference site.
What is almost as disturbing as the spending was the IRS' lack of documentation for how the money was spent.
Waste in government is hardly a new issue. Indeed, it's been around so long that many view it as an unavoidable consequence of a mammoth government bureaucracy, and that may be true.
But what's apparently unavoidable is the sense of some, perhaps many, government employees that they're free to do as they wish on someone else's dime. There's no explanation for what happened here except that the people spending the money felt they were beyond reach.
The investigation's findings are even more disappointing because they demonstrate the contempt some public workers have for the public they serve. There's a huge gulf on display here.
The nearly $50 million that was spent is real money — even in a multitrillion-dollar budget. That much of it was flushed away in such a cavalier fashion shows once again how public servants have become the public's masters.