“Beam me up, Agent Smith, I finally got my receipts in order!”
We’ve all heard of “creative solutions” but who’d have expected this from IRS pencil pushers? While others have sought dry, arcane methods to improve productivity or raise employee morale, there’s something oddly humorous, and distinctly out-of-character, about the stuffy, geeky, pen-protecting math-heads of the IRS getting busted for wasting taxpayer dollars on, of all things, a Star Trek video.
Yes, just when you thought you’d heard it all in terms of government waste, a new story swoops in from a galaxy far, far away to raise eyebrows and get ears, pointed or otherwise, twitching. With a $60,000 budget, a rather impressive set, and a cast of authentically-costumed IRS employees getting on their best Captain Kirk, Spock, et al., the short was originally green-lit in 2010, along with a “Gilligan’s Island” parody, for an in-house training and leadership conference. But after the smell of the grease paint and roar of the crowd, less enthused viewers from another government agency gave a hearty thumbs-down to the video, assessing it to have “no training value” despite its six long minutes of high-production value narrative. And worse, the cast and crew of the pseudo Starship Enterprise have garnered a bad review, or rather, sharp rebuke from Congress for their waste of taxpayer dollars.
How it took three years for the video to get “outed” is a mystery, but as agencies throughout the federal government face automatic spending cuts and general budget tightening, the House Ways and Means Committee, which obviously had heard about the video, requested a copy. After screening the earnest, if misguided, effort, they released it on Friday with a reprimand to the IRS. From YahooNews:
“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,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the Ways and Means oversight subcommittee. “The IRS admitted as much when it disclosed that it no longer produces such videos.” [... ]
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.
Despite the bad reviews, the IRS production team had clearly approached the production with all good intentions. The story focuses on the spaceship approaching the planet “Notax,” where the crime of identity theft had overrun the population. You can just imagine what tense, dramatic action sequences could be fashioned from that plot point, brought to life with a cadre of enthusiastic tax collectors spouting earnest, if stilted, dialogue!
While the agency confirmed that it has implemented tighter controls on how production dollars for “training” videos are allocated, admitting a video such as this would not be made in today’s financial climate, they did defend the thinking that went into the Star Trek project, even pointing out just how popular a piece it’s been since it went up on You Tube:
“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.” [... ]
“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.”
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. [Source]
I guess the old adage about “it’s the audience that gets the final say” applies here!
But despite audience enthusiasm, it’s no joke that $60,000 of taxpayer money was spent on what has been deemed as nothing more than an online curiosity and, as is often the case when a film is a bust, a few heads are likely to roll. IRS employees have been warned they could get five to seven days of furlough this summer. Though this is certainly not only because of the video, times are tough and pain trickles down. The message to our erstwhile “actors of the IRS” seems to be: pack up the Enterprise costumes, put away those pointed ears, and get back to the spreadsheets, people!
I can hear the sighs of starry-eyed pencil pushers all the way from the east coast!
Enjoy the video and… “live long and prosper”: