House lawmakers to grill IRS’s ‘Spock’ over conference spending

Faris Fink, the Internal Revenue Service official who played Spock in a now infamous “Star Trek” parody, will testify before Congress on Thursday as lawmakers probe excessive spending at the tax agency's employee conferences.

Fink is scheduled to appear before the House Oversight Committee in the aftermath of a Treasury audit that found that the IRS spent more than $4 million on a single 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif.

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The IRS’s division for small businesses and the self-employed – for which Fink is commissioner – held that conference, where employees filmed a video parody of “Star Trek” at taxpayer expense. In addition to that video, the conference also featured more than a dozen speakers and produced a separate video featuring IRS staffers doing the “Cupid Shuffle.” 

The agency paid full price for the conference hotel rooms as well, failing to negotiate a discount, and handed out more than $64,000 in gifts.

Acting IRS chief Danny Werfel and Inspector General J. Russell George are also slated to testify at Thursday’s hearing.

The hearing comes a day after the IRS announced that two staffers helping to implement President Obama’s signature healthcare law – including a senior deputy – had been placed on administrative leave over a private party at the Anaheim conference. Congressional sources said the two staffers accepted some $1,100 in free food and gifts at the party.

The IRS has faced intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill following the agency’s disclosure that it singled out Tea Party groups seeking tax exemption for higher scrutiny.

House Oversight last held a hearing on the IRS just over two weeks ago, when Lois Lerner, the IRS staffer central to the targeting, invoked her Fifth Amendment rights. 

Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has said that he believes Lerner waived her rights against self-incrimination and is considering bringing her back before the panel.

Lawmakers are probing when Treasury and White House officials first learned about the political targeting and what steps they took to stop the practice. 

The agency’s problems intensified after the Treasury audit released Tuesday, which detailed nearly $50 million in spending on employee conferences over a three-year period beginning in 2010.

Werfel sought to downplay the controversy, assuring lawmakers that the excessive spending was an “unfortunate vestige from a prior era.”

“While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred,” Werfel said.

Lawmakers, though, say they expect more changes and have threatened to impose restrictions on IRS funding to push reforms.

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