WASHINGTON (AP) - Moving quickly to address yet another controversy, the Internal Revenue Service placed two officials on administrative leave for accepting free food at a party in a private suite at a lavish IRS conference in 2010, the agency said Wednesday.
The officials accepted $1,100 worth of free food and other items, two congressional aides said. The IRS said in a statement that the agency "has started the process to remove the employees pending a further review."
The action comes as the IRS faces mounting criticism for lavish spending on employee conferences, and for improperly targeting conservative political groups. The agency's inspector general issued a report on Tuesday that said the IRS spent nearly $50 million on employee conferences from 2010 through 2012.
The two officials were disciplined for accepting free food at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., the IRS said. The conference cost $4.1 million, making it the agency's most expensive conference during the three-year period, the inspector general's report said.
"When I came to IRS, part of my job was to hold people accountable," acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. "There was clearly inappropriate behavior involved in this situation, and immediate action is needed."
Werfel is scheduled to testify Thursday at a congressional hearing about IRS spending on employee conferences. The agency says it has imposed new regulations prohibiting expensive conferences. The agency says spending on conferences fell from $37.6 million in the 2010 budget year to $4.9 million in 2012.
The IRS notified congressional staffers about the action against the two officials Wednesday.
The IRS did not publicly identify the workers, but two congressional aides said one is a top deputy in the IRS office that oversees implementation of the new health care law - Frederick Schindler, director of implementation oversight in the agency's Affordable Care Act office.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters on the record.
Werfel took over the agency about two weeks ago after President Barack Obama forced the previous acting commissioner to resign following revelations that IRS agents had been improperly targeting conservative political groups when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The IRS said in a statement that Werfel first learned of the employees' actions Tuesday night "and immediately asked his leadership team to take action. He has also been in contact with key congressional committees about the situation."
"The agency stands ready to confront any problems that occur, hold accountable anyone who acted inappropriately and permanently fix these problems so that such missteps do not occur again," Werfel said.
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