Published March 22, 2013
WASHINGTON – While taxpayers may be getting used to seeing federal agencies fritter away their money, there's something ironic about the IRS doing it.
The tax-collecting agency is under fire over a training video from a 2010 conference that parodied "Star Trek" -- and cost tens of thousands of dollars to make.
The IRS now says the video was a mistake and wouldn't be made today. But Republicans were steamed as they portrayed the tape as yet another example of the government wasting tax dollars at a time of trillion-dollar deficits.
"There is nothing more infuriating to a taxpayer than to find out the government is using their hard-earned dollars in a way that is frivolous," Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., said. "The IRS admitted as much when it disclosed that it no longer produces such videos."
The agency says the six-minute video, along with a training video that parodied the TV show "Gilligan's Island," cost about $60,000. The "Star Trek" video accounted for most of the money, the agency said.
The video features an elaborate set depicting the control room, or bridge, of the spaceship featured in the hit TV show. IRS workers portray the characters, including one who plays Mr. Spock, complete with fake hair and pointed ears.
The production value is high even though the acting is what one might expect from a bunch of tax collectors. In the video, the spaceship is approaching the planet "Notax," where alien identity theft appears to be a problem.
It was shown at the opening of a 2010 training and leadership conference but does not appear to have any training value.
"The IRS recognizes and takes seriously our obligation to be good stewards of government resources and taxpayer dollars," the agency said in a statement. "There is no mistaking that this video did not reflect the best stewardship of resources."
The agency said it has tightened controls over the use of its production equipment to "ensure that all IRS videos are handled in a judicious manner that makes wise use of taxpayer funds while ensuring a tone and theme appropriate for the nation's tax system."
The agency also said, "A video of this type would not be made today."
The video was released late in the day Friday after investigators from the House Ways and Means Committee requested it.
The film was made at an IRS studio in New Carrollton, Md., a suburb of Washington. The agency said it uses the studio to make training films and informational videos for taxpayers.
"The use of video training and video outreach through the in-house studio has become increasingly important to the IRS to reach both taxpayers and employees," the agency said. "In the current budget environment, using video for training purposes helps us save millions of dollars and is an important part of successful IRS cost-efficiency efforts."
IRS YouTube videos have been viewed more than 5 million times, the agency said. A video on the IRS website called "When Will I Get My Refund?" has been seen 950,000 times this filing season.
The disclosure of the "Star Trek" video comes as agencies throughout the federal government face automatic spending cuts, including employee furloughs at many of them.
Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller has told employees they could be furloughed five to seven days this summer. The furloughs, however, will be delayed until after tax filing season so refunds should not be affected.
The agency said the "Star Trek" video "was a well-intentioned, light-hearted introduction to an important conference during a difficult period for the IRS."
Congressional investigators initially sought both the "Star Trek" video and the "Gilligan's Island" video but after viewing them determined that the "Gilligan's Island" video was a legitimate training video. The IRS did not release the "Gilligan's Island" video.
"The video series with an island theme provided filing season training for 1,900 employees in our Taxpayer Assistance Centers in 400 locations," the IRS said. "This example of video training alone saved the IRS about $1.5 million each year compared to the costs of training the employees in person."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.