We know the IRS has a habit of making outrageously stupid decisions from time to time. But moral decay over the past few decades is swiftly converting into a full-blown moral nosedive. The debacle this week in the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is ridiculous enough to cause poor Johnnie Walters to turn over in his grave.
You have to understand the role of OPR in order to appreciate the irony of what has happened. OPR is a department within the IRS responsible for regulation of tax practitioners. They enforce the rules of practice before the IRS, investigate misconduct, and discipline those who have violated the rules. The top executive at OPR is Director, Karen L. Hawkins. She sent Takisha McGee, knowing that McGee’s law license was suspended and that she was in the middle of disbarment proceedings, to give a speech to Florida tax attorneys. The topic of her speech? Oh, just “When your license to practice before the IRS is on the line” that’s all.
Even the best fiction writers couldn’t make this stuff up. I haven’t seen so much irony since 9th grade English Lit class. McGee is also part of OPR Management and is listed 5 spaces below Hawkins on the very first page of OPR’s website in case you care to look her up. And while you’re there, you might notice OPR’s vision:
To be the standard-bearer for integrity in tax practice.
And OPR’s mission statement:
Interpret and apply the standards of practice for tax professionals in a fair and equitable manner.
Oh, and Hawkins is also on the record for similar hypocrisy of her own:
I expect nothing but absolute integrity out of both myself and my staff because I just don’t see how you can justify disciplining others for lack of integrity if you aren’t demonstrating integrity-plus on your own behalf.
What a joke. There’s not much integrity left in government, particularly the IRS. No, McGee hasn’t officially been disbarred, and yes she is appealing the disbarment recommendation. But even if we assume she wins in the end, she is still suspended right now! Any attorney will tell you how unethical it is to practice law with a suspended license; if you got caught, you would certainly be disbarred. And maybe OPR can make an argument that lecturing other attorneys does not constitute the practice of law, but they had to consider how this might look and how it might be completely contrary to their office’s “vision.” They had to consider the fact that state bar disciplinary decisions are public information. Anybody can look up Ms. McGee on the D.C. Bar website (as long as they can figure out that her maiden name is Brown) and see that her membership status is indeed “suspended.” Were they never concerned that one of those Florida attorneys would think to do that?
To top it all off, McGee seems to think that her own ethical challenges give her some kind of advantage when it comes to empathizing with tax professionals who are being investigated by her office. That’s assuming she’ll be keeping her job, which is doubtful. Whatever personal lesson she has learned, I don’t think it is appropriate to learn at the expense of every taxpayer in the country who relies on the IRS and all its departments to administer taxes in a fair an honest manner.