Reforming the IRS--and Why We Need a Functioning IRS That Follows the Law

June 5, 2013

Could the IRS and Treasury Department have done a worse job in how they have handled the alleged "targeting" of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status before the 2012 elections?

My criticism starts--but does not end--with any IRS personnel who singled out "Tea Party" and similar groups for extra scrutiny based on their political affiliations. Any such acts cannot be tolerated..

But less noticed is what was being done--or not done--since at least mid-2012 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ("TIGTA").

The Senate Finance Committee's official "timeline" states that, in May 2012, "TIGTA briefs [IRS] Commissioner Shulman on the targeting by the IRS of tea party applications for 501(c)(4) status."

So the Inspector General's Office knew, at least six months before the 2012 elections, that "targeting" of these applicants had occurred? If TIGTA told Commissioner Shulman that it was auditing the problem, why did it take TIGTA another year to issue its May 2013 report?

And did Commissioner Shulman, a Bush appointee with no reason to "hide" any "targeting" of conservative groups, rely on the Inspector General's staff to gather evidence and take appropriate action? Shouldn't TIGTA have acted expeditiously? TIGTA's other FY 2013 reports reveal nothing so pressing that it should have taken it another year.to complete its work.

It is not too much to ask that all IRS and Treasury employees follow the law, and exercise some judgment.

Venting aside, we also must acknowledge that the nation needs a well-functioning IRS (and a working TIGTA).

If we like a strong military, or adequate security against the next terrorist attack, obviously we must have an IRS to collect revenue to pay for that protection. Those of us who do not wish to pay more taxes than our "fair share" (which is everyone) need the IRS to pursue tax cheats.

But IRS and Treasury employees must follow the law, not their own preferences. Although this controversy does not directly involve the IRS Whistleblower Program about which we often write, it is nonetheless an important one.