We didn’t need a report to tell us that Lois Lerner and her allies at the IRS targeted conservative and Tea Party groups for added and unnecessary scrutiny which stymied their efforts, but we got one anyway.
A long-awaited bi-partisan report from the Senate Finance Committee was released this week and, while it confirms what we’ve all known, it doesn’t amount to much more than congressional infighting.
Both conservatives and liberals seem to admit that the IRS messed around with Tea Party groups and then tried to cover it up. These organizations suffered years-long delays as a result and Democratic senators are finally willing to acknowledge that contrary to what President Obama claimed, wrong-doing was not just a conspiracy theory dreamed up by conservatives.
This report falls short though in coming to agreement on what drove these IRS workers under Lerner. Conservatives on the panel said it was politically motivated because Lerner herself was personally committed to making life miserable and stalling efforts of Tea Party groups. Democrats on the committee just chalked it up to gross incompetence. It was undoubtedly a mix of both, but it’s still hard to decipher the contents of the report.
The report does make some recommendations though about how the IRS can ensure that this does not happen again. Not listed but perhaps critical is rooting out those partisans in leadership who act with ideological animus on the job. Better still, we could reform the tax system, but that's a subject for another post.
The Hill reports:
More broadly, the committee, led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), found that the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups showed little to no regard for the groups who in some cases faced years of delay on their applications.
"Not only did those organizations have to withstand delays measured in years, but many also were forced to bear a withering barrage of burdensome and inappropriate 'development letters' aimed at extracting information the IRS wrongly concluded was necessary to properly process the applications," the report said.
Republicans and Democrats have long agreed that Lerner and her division mishandled Tea Party groups' applications, but have quarreled from almost the start over whether conservative groups were singled out intentionally.
Hatch said Wednesday that "the administration’s political agenda guided the IRS’s actions with respect to their treatment of conservative groups," and that Lerner's own personal views "impacted how the IRS conducted its business."
Wyden, on the other hand, told reporters that "my judgment is this report points to vast bureaucratic bumbling."
"There is not a single shred of political interference," he added.
The Finance Committee's findings are unlikely to relieve any of the partisan tensions surrounding the IRS, which has seen its budget slashed even further in the wake of the congressional investigations.
In a statement, the IRS said that it appreciated the Finance Committee's efforts and that the agency would study the report's recommendations.
"The IRS is fully committed to making further improvements, and we want to do everything we can to help taxpayers have confidence in the fairness and integrity of the tax system," the statement added.
Perhaps the saddest part of this report is that, while it’s been released, the investigation into Lois Lerner’s actions and those involved still continues without proper access to information. Every other day we learn the lengths at which some in the IRS went to hide, deny, or destroy evidence that would be useful in determining what went on.
Like the Song the Never Ends, we’re only partially hopeful that we’ll ever get to the bottom of this mess and untangle just how high up the political chain orders to target conservatives went.
Democrats admitting the incompetence of the IRS in this case is either a step right direction or an attempt to hide bad behavior by claiming that it was just an accident.
Let’s hope that the IRS will enact reforms, set such as setting a 270-day deadline for a decision on tax exempt applications, regularly updating leadership on those groups seeking exemption, and clearing up any backlogs.
The report notes that these events eroded our trust in the IRS and confidence in its impartiality.
This is a good thing: the IRS did not deserve the public's trust and confidence, and a congressional report and tepid promises from the IRS won’t do much to restore trust.
More drastic actions are in order.