What went wrong in the IRS Cincinnati office will reverberate across the country for a long time.
It’s not only that IRS employees selected some applications for extra scrutiny because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot.” It’s that the former IRS commissioner — the head of the agency — told members of Congress that wasn’t happening. The deputy commissioner, who is now the acting commissioner, told Congress that Tea Party groups weren’t being targeted, despite complaints they made to lawmakers. Members of Congress sent several inquiries to the IRS last year about Tea Party complaints, and the agency never acknowledged that targeting had happened.
However, an inspector general’s audit expected to be released this week reportedly states that about 75 of the 300 applications for 501 (c) (4) tax-exempt status that got extra IRS scrutiny last year were selected because they had “tea party” or “patriot” somewhere in their application.
Such horrible behavior increases mistrust from people already unhappy with their government.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the IRS reports for Friday and acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller has been called to testify.
Camp’s Senate counterpart, Max Baucus, D-Mont., also announced Monday that the Senate Finance Committee he chairs will hold hearings.
“These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust,” Baucus said. “Americans expect the IRS to do its job without passion or prejudice. We need to get to the bottom of what happened here. I want to see all the facts. We need to know who knew what, and exactly what mistakes were made. The American people have questions for the IRS and I intend to get answers. I want to review the inspector general’s report first, but the IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee. The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”
Fairness and impartiality are particularly important with government tax collecting agencies. We have one of the most efficient and effective tax administration and collection systems in the world.
Although we all complain about it, Americans generally believe it is fundamentally fair and impartial.
Our system relies by and large on voluntary self-compliance. If citizens begin to believe that tax administration and collection is unfair or biased, we run the risk of undermining our system.
For his part, President Obama called the intentional targeting of conservative groups “outrageous.” “The IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way, applying the laws in a non-partisan way,” he said.
That confidence has been shaken for many Americans. The weeks ahead must produce a detailed accounting from the IRS and the Obama administration.