IRS Draws Bipartisan Fire At Hearing

9:24 AM, May 17, 2013   |    comments
Ousted IRS chief Steve Miller, center, arrives on Capitol Hill on Friday to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the IRS practice of targeting applicants for tax-exempt status.(Photo: Charles Dharapak, AP)
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The scandal at the Internal Revenue Service goes far beyond the treatment of Tea Party groups and includes larger issues of abuse of power, the chairman of the House's chief tax-writing committee said at an oversight hearing Friday morning.

"With all due respect, this systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation, or two," said Rep. Dave Camp, R. Mich., who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. "This is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too intrusive, too abusive."

"It looks like the truth was hidden to the American people just long enough to make it through an election," Camp said.

The top Democrat Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., said he, too, wanted to find out why the IRS targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and that IRS officials responsible should be fired. But he took exception to the injection of campaign politics into the hearing.

"If instead this hearing becomes an effort to score political points, it will be a disregard of the duties of this committee," he said.

STORY: IRS approved liberal groups, kept Tea party in limbo

But the acting chief of the IRS -- who is stepping down -- said the agency's actions were not motivated by politics.

"Partisanship or the perception of politics has no place in the IRS," acting commissioner Steven Miller said in a brief opening statement to the Ways and Means Committee, which is investigating the affair.

"I do not believe partisanship motivated the actions," of the tax-exempt organizations office in Cincinnati. He said. Rather, "foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection."

The agency's chief watchdog testified Friday that the Internal Revenue Service has not fully addressed the problems that led it to improperly subject Tea Party and other conservative groups to extra scrutiny.

"We do not consider the concerns in this report to be resolved," Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George said.

It was George's report that uncovered the 2010 strategy of subjecting all tax-exempt status applications for Tea Party, patriot and other conservative groups to additional scrutiny.

The audit did not suggest political motivations on the part of IRS officials in Cincinnati, where all applications for tax-exempt status are processed. But it did blame "a lack of managerial review, at all levels."

The report has already led to the resignation of two top IRS officials and launched a criminal investigation by the FBI.

STORY: Second IRS official resigns after scandal

The inspector general's report made nine recommendations to ensure fairness in the tax-exempt process. But the IRS has only agreed to seven of them, George said.

Specifically, the IRS has resisted posting on its website its guidance on what constitutes impermissible political activity for non-profit groups. And the agency won't agree to document the reasoning every time a tax exemption is held up for further review.

"Until all of our recommendations are fully implemented and the numerous applications that were open as of December 2012 are closed, we do not consider the concerns in this report to be resolved," George said.

The House's tax-writing committee is one of three congressional committees promising hearings on the affair. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday requested to interview five low- to mid-level IRS employees.

Among them: Holly Paz, the director of rulings and agreements in Washington, who made $155,500 in 2011. She contributed $2,000 to President Obama's campaign committee in 2008, campaign reports show.

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