The United States Internal Revenue Service has never been the most popular government entity, but lately its reputation has taken a severe shellacking. The first problem came to light a few months ago, when it was revealed that the IRS had been targeting the Tea Party and other conservative political groups, putting their finances under close scrutiny. But on the PR embarrassment scale, that was nothing compared to the Star Trek video.
As the IRS finds itself under close scrutiny, a series of mortifying gaffes are now on public display. An astounding $50 million, all taxpayer money, was spent during 2010 and 2012 on 225 IRS conferences. The expenditures included training – or, rather, a rah-rah ha-ha training video with a Star Trek theme. And line dancing classes at the conferences. And baseball tickets, and stays in presidential suites for conference attendees, and a “happiness expert” who cost over $11,000. The list goes on and, unfortunately, on.
The congressional hearings investigating the conservative targeting are the equivalent of an audit for the IRS, and as with anyone else, the unpleasant receipts are being discovered. Daniel Werfel, the new IRS head, said he took the job because he thought he could be helpful. “The IRS is an agency in need right now,” he said in an understatement, in between apologies and explanations that can’t begin to defray the damage.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the IRS. The government entity will have a long road of recovery after shooting itself in the foot.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Think before you line dance – or make a video of it. The scrutiny of conservative groups is now being blamed on orders “from Washington”; if true, the resulting issues were unavoidable. But the silly, expensive training videos, the line dancing, the happiness expert? Someone along the way must have asked what this would look like to the outside world, or should have. In PR, an ounce of prevention is far more effective than ten pounds of damage control. At this point, confession and sincere apologies won’t make a dent in the IRS’s accounts.
To see the IRS Star Trek video, click here.