The Hill
March 27, 2013

Baucus to IRS: How did the 'Star Trek' video happen? Who's responsible?

The Senate’s top tax-writer wants answers from the IRS about a “Star Trek” spoof that the tax-collecting agency has now apologized for making. 

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday that the video production wasted taxpayer dollars at a time when the federal government was struggling to collect all the revenue it was owed.

Baucus also questioned why the IRS had a video production unit at all — especially at its reported $4 million a year price tag. The “Star Trek” parody and a separate takeoff on “Gilligan’s Island” cost around $60,000 in tandem, the IRS has said. 

“We all have the duty to make sure that taxpayers’ hard-earned money is spent wisely,” Baucus said in a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner.

“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.”

Baucus’s rebuke gives a bipartisan flavor to the criticism of the IRS over their video output, after Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee and other GOP lawmakers spent recent days questioning whether the productions were a good use of agency resources.

William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk himself, has also criticized the "Star Trek" takeoff — which includes a trip toward the planet “Notax” — as a waste of government money.

Miller has suggested that the “Star Trek” video “would not be made today,” in a response to questions from Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee.

The IRS has also said it had installed more oversight on their video section in the last three years, and has more broadly defended its use of its studio.

Miller said the IRS’s videos have helped eat into travel costs related to training, and that an IRS-produced video on tax refunds has received some 950,000 clicks on YouTube this filing season.

The “Gilligan’s Island” spoof, for instance, has been deemed a legitimate training exercise.

“The in-house studio is more than 15 years old and allows us to develop educational videos in a cost-efficient way to train employees around the country and to inform taxpayers and partner groups of key tax administration messages,” Miller wrote to Boustany.

In his letter, Baucus asks who gave the go-ahead to the “Star Trek” video, and notes that the IRS has had its struggles in ensuring that taxpayers seeking help get the assistance they need.

The Montana Democrat also noted that a taxpayer assistance center in his state is now only open part-time, and wondered if the $60,000 spent on videos could have helped prevent that outcome.

“A single taxpayer dollar wasted is one dollar too many, and it is particularly disturbing to see this waste coming from the very agency tasked with the mission of closing the $450 billion tax gap,” Baucus said in a Wednesday statement.

“I want to know exactly how this video came to be, exactly who is responsible, and what the plan is for ensuring taxpayer dollars won’t be wasted on another futile endeavor like this again.”

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