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Opinion

Op-Ed: Hard questions that demand answers on IRS IG's investigation

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Opinion,Op-Eds,IRS

Despite making national headlines for its most recent abuse of power, the Internal Revenue Service is giving disturbingly few answers regarding its targeting of political groups.

Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George finally released his audit of the IRS a couple weeks ago. His timeline confirms that IRS employees in Washington were integrally involved in the targeting, despite the agency's quick attempt to blame a couple "rogue" agents in Cincinnati, Ohio. The report made sure to not mention senior officials by name, but it verified that many of them were kept in the loop.

George said under oath that IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner learned about the targeting in summer 2011 and took immediate action. His report, however, contends she was informed long before that.

The audit notes on April 19, 2010, "Sensitive Case Reports are shared with the Director, Rulings and Agreements, and a chart summarizing all Sensitive Case Reports is provided to the Director, EO [Exempt Organizations]."

Though top IRS officials continue to claim they were not made aware of the targeting until recently, Mr. George's audit shows that the Cincinnati office sent multiple requests to D.C. for guidance on how to handle Tea Party cases.

Waiting for this guidance, which in at least one case highlighted in George's report took more than 13 months, indicates that these Ohio agents were receiving their orders from much higher up. Considering the scope of the report, many hoped it would outline who gave the directives on targeting.

Yet it remained strangely silent on that topic.

A footnote in the report states, "Until July 2011, the Rulings and Agreements office referred to these cases as Tea Party cases. Afterwards, the EO function referred to these cases as advocacy cases." Despite this change, the targeting of conservative groups continued. Why would IRS employees change terms without changing actions unless they were simply attempting to hide their true intent?

Not only does the inspector general's audit raise more questions than it answers, but the way it was conducted should also raise eyebrows. When I asked George why 36 of 41 interviews conducted by his office had an IRS manager present, he said he was not aware this practice had occurred.

Curiously, it was documented in a list of interviews that George's office provided directly to our committee prior to the hearing. Shouldn't he have known the make-up of the interviews conducted by his staff during his own audit?

George said it was a "courtesy" to allow former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman, Acting Commissioner Steve Miller, Deputy Commissioner Beth Tucker and Treasury Chief Counsel Chris Meade to learn a year ago about several details regarding the targeting.

Oddly, he didn't find it necessary to extend the same courtesy to Congress, even after Shulman confidently stated in a hearing on March 22, 2012, that there was "absolutely no targeting" being done by the IRS. By the end of that same month, however, both the Inspector General and the IRS had begun investigating allegations of targeting.

America's founders knew the importance of allowing the people to speak critically about government actions. Many targeted groups were merely providing information about the nation's founding principles and focusing attention on excessive government power. Those groups deserved the same treatment from the IRS as groups advocating for a more expansive government.

On the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, we will continue calling witnesses and pushing for answers until those involved are held responsible. The American people must be assured that no federal agency can trample their First Amendment rights.

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