EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 14, 2013

Editorial: Feds living large and lording it over us

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Meet Faris Fink.

In real life, he is the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service’s Small Business and Self-employed Division.

But don’t let that dreary title fool you.

Faris Fink also has a fantasy life, and in it he is Mister Spock, first officer of the starship Enterprise.

That’s right, Commissioner Fink is among top-level taxmen who star in an IRS “training” video that spoofs the “Star Trek” TV series and movie franchise.

The video was featured at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., for the 2,600 employees of Fink’s division.

In one scene, a character based on Pavel Chekov, a Russian crew member of the Enterprise, tells another character: “Back in Russia, I dreamed someday I’d be rich and famous.”

“Me, too,” the other IRS star shoots back. “That’s why I became a public servant.”

Set the Phasers for stunned, Mr. Fink.

The conference cost more than $4 million, including $50,000-plus for Fink’s video and another video starring merry IRS bureaucrats performing something called the “Cupid Shuffle.”

And, of course, all of this was on your dime.

Last week, Commissioner Fink appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to say he was sorry for wasting your money on his lavish conference and silly videos.

“It’s embarrassing. I apologize,” he said.

Apology not accepted, Commissioner Fink, for two reasons.

First, you’ll note we said “Commissioner Fink,” not ex-commissioner. Fink is still on the government payroll more than two years after Anaheim, collecting his no-doubt six-figure salary.

Live long and prosper, Faris Fink.

Far more important, this boondoggle was no aberration.

Item: A report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general said Anaheim was one of at least 220 IRS shindigs that cost taxpayers $50 million between 2010 and 2012. At one of the other conferences, the IRS paid for a video takeoff of “Gilligan’s Island” to entertain — we mean train, its minions. To its credit, the IRS significantly reduced the number of its conferences between 2010 and 2012, from 152 in 2010 down to 24 last year. But who has any confidence the culture has really changed or the excessive spending won’t resume once no one is looking?

Item: The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency reported last week that contract workers at a huge EPA warehouse outside Washington, D.C., carved out “unauthorized and hidden personal spaces” furnished with big-screen TV’s, refrigerators and nap-worthy couches. Man caves, in other words. The EPA leased the warehouse from another government agency for $750,000 a year and has paid the contractor hired to maintain it more than $5 million since 2007. And what did the EPA get for its money? “Deplorable conditions ...corrosion, vermin feces, mold and other problems,” said the IG. But the man caves were nice.

Item: The U.S. Justice Department spent more than $58 million last year alone flying DOJ employees to conferences all over the world, according to an IG report made public this week. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder decrying the “jet-set culture,” Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said the DOJ, spent almost $500,000 to send 30 employees to a conference in Indonesia and $200,000 to send just four employees to a Senegal seminar and also paid $100,000 for a Northern Mariana Islands summit without bothering to send any employee.

In the grand scheme of multi-trillion-dollar federal spending, some might dismiss these abuses as insignificant.

They are not.

Like the scandals over the IRS’ harassment of conservative groups and political donors, like the Benghazi coverup, like the once secret National Security Agency’s data-mining operation, Washington’s profligate and careless spending goes to the heart of the relationship between citizens and their government.

All of these scandals raise fundamental questions of trust.

Can we trust federal officials and functionaries to do the right thing, to look out for our interests rather than their own?

Unfortunately and sadly, the answer seems to be no.

Once they were considered our public servants and considered themselves as such. Too many now see themselves as our masters and want to live like lords at our expense.