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WASHINGTON (AP) — An Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency's latest scandal told lawmakers Thursday that an expensive conference held in 2010 conformed to existing rules, though he acknowledged it was not the best use of taxpayer money.

The official, Faris Fink, said spending at the $4.1 million gathering should have been more closely scrutinized, and that new rules would prevent such a conference today.

"I think it is important to point out that in carrying out this 2010 meeting, we followed IRS and government procedures that were in place at the time," Fink told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In 2010, Fink was a top deputy in the IRS small business and self-employed division, which staged the conference. A 32-year IRS employee, Fink was promoted to lead the division in 2011.

"The Treasury inspector general's office review found no instances of fraud," Fink told lawmakers. "But we are now in a very different environment and there are many new procedures in place at the IRS governing training and travel."

The hearing focused on a new report by the IRS inspector general that said the IRS spent nearly $50 million on 225 employee conferences from 2010 through 2012. The 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., attended by 2,600 IRS managers from across the country, was the most expensive.

At that conference, Fink stayed in a luxury suite and starred in a cheesy but slickly-produced "Star Trek" video filmed by IRS employees.

From the witness table, Fink watched the video screen in the hearing room without expression as excerpts played showing him in his role as Mr. Spock.

The IRS spent more than $50,000 to produce three videos that were shown at the conference, the report said, including the "Star Trek" parody.

"What were you thinking?" asked the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Fink said the videos were "a well-intentioned" attempt at humor, shown at the opening and closing of the conference.

"They would not occur today, based on all the guidelines that exist and frankly, they were not appropriate at that time, either," Fink said. "The fact of the matter is, it's embarrassing, and I apologize."

Fink stayed in a room that normally cost $1,499 a night, the inspector general's report said. A total of 132 IRS officials received room upgrades at the conference.

The tax agency paid a flat daily fee of $135 per hotel room, the report said, but the upgrades were part of a package deal that added to the overall cost of the conference.

The IRS faces mounting criticism both for spending on employee conferences and for improperly targeting conservative political groups that applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The IRS was screening the groups' applications because agents were trying to determine their level of political activity. IRS regulations say tax-exempt social welfare organizations can engage in some political activity but the activity cannot be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make that determination.

The revelations about IRS agents' improperly targeting tea party and other groups have led to investigations by three congressional committees and the Justice Department. One top IRS official was forced to resign, a second retired and a third was placed on paid administrative leave.

This week, the IRS began taking action against employees who were involved in the 2010 conference.

On Wednesday, the IRS' new acting commissioner placed two officials on administrative leave for accepting free food at a party in a private suite at the conference. Pending a review, the two officials could lose their jobs, the agency said.

The IRS said spending on conferences fell from $37.6 million in the 2010 budget year to $4.9 million in 2012. The agency said it has already imposed strict regulations to prevent expensive conferences in the future.

"I will do everything possible to ensure that tight spending protocols are in place at the agency to protect the use of taxpayer dollars," acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in prepared testimony distributed to reporters at the beginning of Thursday's hearing.

Werfel said employee training remains important to the IRS. But, he added, "We must make sure we undertake it in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Unfortunately, that did not occur in this case."

Werfel took over the IRS last month after President Barack Obama forced the previous acting commissioner to resign following revelations that IRS agents had been improperly targeting conservative political groups.

___ Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap
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   BEIJING (AP) — Rising global food demand will push up prices 10 to 40 percent over the coming decade and governments need to boost investment to increase farm production, a forecast by two international agencies said Thursday.

   Growth in food production has slowed over the past decade even as rising incomes in developing countries boosted consumption, said the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

   "We're observing slower growth in production and productivity, and that is a concern," said Merritt Cluff, an FAO economist, at a news conference.

   Governments need to find ways to give farmers access to technology to increase output and get more of their crops to market, the agencies said in a report, "Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022."

   Prices are expected to rise 10 to 40 percent over the coming decade, with the cost of meat rising faster and that of grains more slowly, according to Ken Ash, director general of the OECD's trade and agriculture division.

   "We would urge governments around the world to begin to shift and to shift quickly from old-style policies to a greater focus on productivity and innovation," said Ash. "If we carry on blissfully as if nothing has changed in the world, there could be a problem."

   Higher prices will have their biggest impact in developing countries where some families spend up to 60 percent of their incomes on food, Cluff said.

   Investment in farming has fallen in recent decades due to a long-term decline in commodity prices and has yet to rebound despite price spikes since 2008, the agencies said. As a result, they said, annual production growth is forecast to slow to 1.5 percent compared with the past decade's 2.1 percent.

   "It's about a third less. That's a big difference," said Angel Gurria, the OECD secretary-general.

   The agencies urged governments to avoid interfering with market forces that can encourage farmers to produce more by raising prices for their goods.

   Food consumption in developing countries has grown by up to 30 percent a year over the past decade as incomes rose, while consumption in developed countries changed little, the agencies said.

   China's imports of meat and oilseeds are forecast to grow as its increasingly prosperous consumers spend more on food, the agencies said.

   Beijing has pursued self-sufficiency in production of rice, wheat and other grain but for soybeans and other oilseeds relies on imports from the United States, Brazil and other countries.

   Imports of oilseeds are expected to rise by 40 percent over the next 10 years, accounting for 59 percent of global trade in oilseeds, while dairy imports would rise 20 percent, the OECD and FAO said.

   China should remain self-sufficient in its main crops but for other products its sheer size "will keep markets on edge over the next decade," said Cluff.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The winner of last month's $590 million Powerball jackpot is an 84-year-old woman from Zephyrhills, Fla.

Florida Lottery officials made the announcement Wednesday after Gloria C. Mackenzie came forward to claim the prize. They say Mackenzie took the single lump-sum payment of about $370.9 million before taxes.

Officials say she is the largest sole lottery winner in U.S. history. She did not speak to reporters outside lottery headquarters, leaving in a silver Ford Focus with family members.

The winning ticket was sold at a Publix supermarket in Zephyrhills, a town of about 13,300 people located 30 miles northeast of Tampa. It is best known for bottled spring water that bears its name.

The winner had 60 days from the May 18 drawing to claim the lump sum.

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