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August 29, 2014

Did Treasury Mislead Coburn About IRS Conferences?

Voting 01 032213 445x303 Did Treasury Mislead Coburn About IRS Conferences?

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The IRS may have another problem: It looks like Sen. Tom Coburn asked about lavish conference spending over a year ago and didn’t get a complete answer.

That’s essentially what Coburn’s saying in a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew distributed late Wednesday. In the letter, the Oklahoma Republican writes that he sought information in April of last year about conference spending by the department from then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

The letter follows news reports of a new Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report about inappropriate IRS conference expenditures that included video productions and outside speakers, as well as allegedly not negotiating lodging costs to the lowest possible rates.

“Recent news reports indicate that the IRS, the largest component of the Department of Treasury, spent some $50 million on hundreds of conferences over the same three year period as the letter request. This information appears to be very relevant to the initial request, but we did not receive it,” Coburn writes. “In light of these reports, it appears that the response provided by Treasury was inaccurate and incomplete. It did not include any information regarding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while we now understand IRS spent $50 million on conferences during this time period.”

The IRS functions in many ways as an independent entity, but it is a bureau of the Treasury. In his letter dated June 3, and released Wednesday night, Coburn says he’s informing the TIGTA of his earlier request. The letter follows:

Dear Secretary Lew:

I am writing you today requesting clarification on why certain conference expenditure data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was omitted from the department’s response to my request for all conference expenditure data from the Department of Treasury.

On April 16, 2012, I wrote to then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner requesting a full listing of all conferences attended by department employees during fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012, including the title, location, date, and number of employees who attended. Additionally, the letter requested a full listing of conferences that received financial support from the agency, including those where it was the primary host, a sponsor, or provided some other support.

In response, Treasury provided a list titled “Treasury Departmental Offices Overnight Conferences (1/1/2005 – 6/1/2012) Attended by 50 or more Treasury Staff.” On that list, there were only five conferences, with a total cost under $500,000. Only one of these conferences took place during the time period requested in the letter. None were related to the IRS or its employees.

In an accompanying letter, the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs assured me that the agency was “keenly aware of the need to safeguard limited taxpayer resources,” and highlighted several steps the agency was taking to cut back on conference costs.

Recent news reports indicate that the IRS, the largest component of the Department of Treasury, spent some $50 million on hundreds of conferences over the same three year period as the letter request. This information appears to be very relevant to the initial request, but we did not receive it.

In light of these reports, it appears that the response provided by Treasury was inaccurate and incomplete. It did not include any information regarding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), while we now understand IRS spent $50 million on conferences during this time period.

I have attached my initial letter for your review. In light of recent events, I request your department re-examine its files and ensure that it has shared with me all data responsive to my initial request.

Additionally, I am referring this matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to review why the IRS conference data was omitted from the response.

Sincerely,

Tom A. Coburn, M.D.

Ranking Member

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