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Senator Blasts IRS’ Training Videos

Anger over ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ ‘Star Trek’ parodies

A pair of Internal Revenue Service produced training videos that are parodies of the 1960s television shows “Gilligan’s Island” and “Star Trek” and that cost $60,000 have attracted the attention of a U.S. senator who has criticized the agency for its “wasteful government spending.”

That criticism has led the IRS to issue a statement denouncing “the space parody video,” saying it “is not reflective of overall IRS video efforts.”

The Star Trek themed video was shown to IRS employees at a conference in 2010. In the video, IRS personnel are dressed as characters from the show on a recreation of the bridge of the starship Enterprise. The plot of the video has the crew trekking to the planet “Notax.”
The Gilligan’s Island themed video—called “FA Quality Island”—was used to provide filing season training to 1,900 IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center employees at 400 locations, according to the agency. Like the Star Trek video, IRS employees are dressed as characters from the show and they discuss “field assistance quality.” Both videos can be seen on YouTube.
On March 27, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asking, “why the IRS produced a Star Trek themed video and what steps the IRS has taken to prevent such wasteful government spending in the future.”
“According to a recent IRS statement, the IRS produced two of these parody videos starring IRS employees at a cost of $60,000 total for the two videos. The Star Trek video was made in 2010 for an IRS training and leadership conference. What is unclear, however, is how the IRS made the decision to produce the Star Trek video,” Baucus’ letter says.
“Furthermore, according to one estimate, the IRS may have spent as much as $4 million last year through its production studio. As a tax administration agency, why does the IRS even have a production studio? And, does the studio in fact cost that much per year?” Baucus wrote.
“As you know, everyone in the federal government works for the benefit of hardworking taxpayers. We all have the duty to make sure that taxpayers’ hard earned money is spent wisely. I am not sure that any Montanan would think that the IRS’s Star Trek video meets that standard. Rather, as far as I can tell, they see the video as an example of government waste,” the letter says.
“For the sake of transparency and accountability, I request a detailed explanation for why the IRS produced the Star Trek video and why it has a production studio that reportedly costs taxpayers $4 million a year. I also would like to know what steps, if any, the IRS has taken to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again,” the letter says.
On April 1, the IRS provided Government Video with a statement saying, “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.
“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 five million times on important issues ranging from refund information to identity theft,” the statement says.
However, the IRS also says it has instituted new video production standards to prevent more parody training video from being made. “The space parody video from 2010 is not reflective of overall IRS video efforts, which provide critical information to taxpayers and cost-effective employee training critical to running the nation’s tax system. In addition, the IRS has instituted tough new standards for videos to prevent situations similar to the 2010 video,” the IRS says.