The IRS’ Training Video Problem

The videos were cheesy, but it was the cost of the training video parodies that raised the ire of Congress—the latest knock in a crackdown on conference costs.

Two of the most beloved TV shows of the 1960s are giving the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) major headaches this week—and could be the latest front in a long crackdown on conference spending.

After it was revealed that the agency created two staff training videos that parodied Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island, the costs of creating those videos has been under heavy scrutiny by members of Congress and others.

The ugly details: Fans of bad movies may get a kick out of these clips. The films, created professionally but using IRS staff members, follow the traditional tropes of the classic series, with one character dressed as Mr. Spock, with the ears to match. Together, the videos cost $60,000 to create, but the Star Trek parody, which was heavier on special effects, cost more to produce. (The Gilligan’s Island video, longer and made with a smaller budget, is heavier on specific training information for employees.) The videos were uncovered last week by the House’s Ways and Means Committee oversight subcommittee, which requested the clips after an investigation.

“A video of this type would not be made today.” In a statement last week about the videos , the agency apologized for the creation of the clips, explaining that it had tightened controls for making such videos in the future. “The IRS recognizes and takes seriously our obligation to be good stewards of government resources and taxpayer dollars,” the agency explained. “There is no mistaking that this video did not reflect the best stewardship of resources.” In the case of the Star Trek video, it had limited education value as it was only an introduction for other training clips, and was intended as a “light-hearted introduction to an important conference during a difficult period for the IRS,” according to IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who spoke to the Associated Press.

The reaction: Since the IRS’ disclosure of the videos, members of Congress have spoken out, calling for an investigation into the spending behind these clips. “I want to know exactly how this video came to be, exactly who is responsible, and what the plan is for ensuring taxpayer dollars won’t be wasted on another futile endeavor like this again,” said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who asked for a line-by-line accounting of how the money was spent on the clips. Rep. Charles Boustany, (R-LA), who heads the House Ways and Means Committee’s oversight subcommittee, called the clips “frivolous,” according to the AP.

The benefits still matter: Despite the challenges caused by the current situation, the IRS notes that the videos, produced at the agency’s Maryland studio, do have value as a cost-saving tool in lieu of conferences, as well as a promotional vehicle. One of the agency’s clips, above and titled When Will I Get My Refund, has proven to be a successful outreach for the agency, receiving nearly 1 million views since December.

A scene from the IRS' "Star Trek" parody. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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