House lawmakers on Thursday rattled off a long list of supposed excesses relating to the Internal Revenue Service’s 2010 conference in Anaheim, which cost an estimated $4 million, according to a recent inspector general’s report.

Judging from the way Democrats and Republicans criticized the spending during a congressional hearing on Thursday — not to mention the apology from an agency official — this event would seem to be a classic boondoggle.

Lawmakers from both parties jabbed at the IRS for its spending on the conference, but several Republicans mentioned a squirting fish that supposedly counted as excess.

“I’m sure that some of the taxpayers … love to know that the federal government spent $64,000 on squirting fish for federal employees at a conference,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). “Is that an appropriate expenditure of funds?”

The plastic fish came with a batch of trinkets — including keychains, plastic coins and miniature stuffed animals — that cost the IRS $750, according to the IG report. Mica’s $64,000 figure actually covers the total cost for all gifts at the conference, not just the fish.

Democrats were critical as well during the hearing. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, lashed out about two videos the IRS produced for the Anaheim event — one was a “Star Trek” parody, the other was a line-dancing video.

“I swear to God, I have looked at that video over and over again, and I swear I do not see the redeeming value,” Cummings said. “I was up at 3:00 this morning watching it, because I was trying to get to the redeeming value. I couldn’t get there.”

(Washington Post) - IRS official Faris Fink. (Washington Post) – IRS official Faris Fink.

Those comments produced some snickering in the hearing room. But the mood turned more serious when Cummings raised his voice, saying: “I live in a block where most people don’t even make $50,000 a year, and still we can produce a video that has no redeeming value — none — and spend taxpayers’ hard- earned dollars for that.”

Several Democrats pointed out that the government has reined in IRS conference spending since 2011. Such costs plummeted during the last two years of Obama’s first term, dropping from $37.6 million in 2010 to $4 million in 2012, according to the IG report. (See page 38).

For what it’s worth, the costs increased from $9.8 million to $29 million during President George W. Bush’s final years in office.

Conferences in general are expensive, and they involve lots of throw-away items, so these questionable expenditures are nothing unique to the IRS. This Federal Eye blogger knows the industry from having written for Northwest Meetings & Events magazine at a previous point in his career.

The IRS may have dropped $50,000 for conference videos or $64,000 for trivial gifts, but the agency also proved it can live with dramatically less event spending after Congress and President Obama cracked down on the costs in 2011.

Now for something on a lighter note. The Federal Eye highly recommends watching this humorous video that cost the blog far less than $50,000:

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