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GOP senator rips IRS 'wasteful spending'

GOP senator rips IRS 'wasteful spending'
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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) on Tuesday gave the IRS a list of agency spending that he said could have been better spent helping taxpayers. 

John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, has repeatedly said in recent weeks that budget cuts have hurt his agency’s ability to help taxpayers. But Hatch told Koskinen he keeps coming up with new areas where the agency could find savings, including $4.3 million that the agency spent on public opinion polling last year and almost $4 million for office furniture.

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The Utah Republican also dinged the IRS for spending more than $8,000 on an exercise stair-climber — “which I assume is in a building with actual stairs,” Hatch said — and for unloading thousands of dollars on “decorative and give-away items” like Thomas the Tank Engine wristbands.

“I hope this is helpful in identifying additional areas of wasteful spending that might be better redirected elsewhere, such as helping taxpayers file their taxes,” Hatch wrote to Koskinen.

The more than $8 million in savings that Hatch suggested amount to just a small percentage of the budget cuts that the IRS has absorbed in recent years. After the most recent cuts from Congress, the IRS’s budget is now down to $10.9 billion this year — a $1.2 billion decrease from 2010.

Koskinen and other IRS officials have said those cuts have placed more stress on both agency staffers and taxpayers, who have only gotten around two in five phone calls to the IRS answered in the days leading up to Wednesday’s filing deadline.

The IRS responded to Hatch's letter Tuesday with a statement of its own, saying that a couple of the items on the Finance chairman's list were off base or outdated.

The furniture purchases, the IRS said, allowed the agency to reduce office space and amounted to a $15 million in savings for the government. The agency also no longer allows purchases of decorative items, after agreeing with an inspector general's report in 2013 that criticized those kind of expenses in 2010 and 2011. 

"The IRS continues our efforts to find savings and efficiencies wherever we can," the agency said.

Republicans have made other suggestions to the IRS about ways to save money, including spending less employee time on union activity and ending efforts to write new rules governing how social welfare groups can engage in politics. 

- Updated at 10:46 p.m.