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IRS 'Star Trek' parody: It's politics, Jim, but exactly as we know it

March 27, 2013|By Michael McGough
  • This image from an Internal Revenue Service video shows IRS employees portraying "Star Trek" characters in a video parodying the TV show that was made for a 2010 IRS training and leadership conference.
This image from an Internal Revenue Service video shows IRS employees portraying… (Associated Press )

In attacking the Internal Revenue Service for a training video parodying the TV show “Star Trek,” critics have not very boldly gone where many have gone before -- to a political universe in which government employees are pilloried for practices that are common in the private sector.

You probably have heard that the IRS spent $60,000 to produce a video parodying the 1960s space opera, which spawned several spinoffs in movies and on TV. The video features the adventures of the "Starship Enterprise Y,” whose mission is to “seek out new tax forms, to explore strange new regulations, to boldly go where no governmental employee has gone before.”

The stand-in for Capt. James T. Kirk leads the crew on a mission to rescue the planet Notax, which teeters on the edge of chaos because of  money laundering, bribery and tax evasion. The crew also encounters  “alien identity theft” and “No-Taxians” with identical “Solar Security Numbers.” (That’s actually pretty clever.) After the captain praises the crew for proving that “an engaged team is a successful team,” he orders them to beam down to Earth.

OK, the humor is generally lame and the acting is execrable (though the sets and costumes are impressive). But it’s entirely possible that the video enhanced the morale of participants in an IRS training and leadership conference held in 2010. Private companies engage in similar (and equally hokey) team-building exercises all the time.

But private companies aren’t abused for their excesses the way government agencies are. After all, those agencies are spending “taxpayers' money.” (Actually, as the editor at my former paper pointed out, it’s not the taxpayers' money after they pay their taxes; it’s the government’s money.)

"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," huffed Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-La.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee. "The IRS admitted as much when it disclosed that it no longer produces such videos."  In the unkindest cut for the IRS, William Shatner, a.k.a. the "real" Capt. James T. Kirk, tweeted that he had watched the video and was “appalled at the utter waste of U.S. tax dollars.”  

The IRS has groveled before its congressional and media critics. "The IRS recognizes and takes seriously our obligation to be good stewards of government resources and taxpayer dollars," the agency said in a statement. "There is no mistaking that this video did not reflect the best stewardship of resources."

Maybe not, but it was hardly the indefensible outrage its critics are complaining about and its price tag was, in federal budget terms, minuscule. The uproar over the “Star Trek” parody is an example of the sort of moralistic nitpicking to which the public sector is often subjected. It’s related to the lazy disdain in which government employees are held by many politicians  and taxpayers. You could even say that bashing “bureaucrats” is the prime directive of populist politics. But that doesn’t make it fair.

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