Commissioner Koskinen Asked to Resign

IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, has been on the job for only a couple years, but he was brought in at a very difficult time for the agency. He was appointed by Pres. Obama and given the task of cleaning things up at the IRS, particularly in regard to the scandal involving targeting of Tea Party groups. Now he has lawmakers calling for his resignation because of the way he has handled the debacle. I bet there are days he regrets accepting the assignment.

The most outspoken republicans insist that Koskinen lied about the missing emails. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is on record saying that Koskinen was in possession of the emails, and then after they were subpoenaed, his agency destroyed them. Many now want him to resign, and if he doesn’t, they are threatening worse. They are throwing around words like “contempt,” “obstruction of justice,” and “impeachment.”

President Obama claims that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” within the IRS, but everybody knows this isn’t true. He needs to be a little more careful with his words. The IRS is huge and people are imperfect, arrogant, and greedy. How can he say there isn’t a smidgen of corruption? He doesn’t know that. All that really means is he has had meetings with those that run the agency who say there’s no corruption, who have had meetings with high level management who say there’s no corruption, who have had meetings with lower level management, etc. There is no way any clear-thinking adult could swallow such a broad statement as that.

According to Chaffetz, there are still at least 5 open investigations into the targeting scandal, including that of TIGTA and the Department of Justice. I, for one, must admit that I am a little surprised that the news of this scandal hasn’t fizzled yet. I think it speaks to how passionate we are, as US citizens, about allegations of corruption within our government.

Cindy Thomas Defends "Low-Level" IRS Employees in Sharp Email to Lois Lerner

At the height of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal, high-level IRS employee Lois Lerner blamed low-level IRS employees in a Cincinnati office for flagging tax-exempt applications that contained words such as “tea party” or “patriot.”  Lerner had said that “line people . . . didn’t have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others.”

But one of these underlings in Cincinnati showed plenty of sensitivity in a May 10th email to Lerner that was made public this week by investigators on the House Ways and Means Committee.  Her name is Cindy Thomas, then-director of that office.  She took offense to Lerner’s labeling of her and others as “low level employees,” noticing right away that the Cincinnati tax-exempt division was being blamed in order to protect high-level IRS management.  Tax law and IRS news can be dull at times, but Thomas’ email reads like a juicy piece of gossip:

As you can imagine, employees and managers [in the Cincinnati tax-exempt division] are furious…How am I supposed to keep the low-level workers motivated when the public believes they are nothing more than low-level and now will have no respect for how they are working cases?  The attitude/morale of employees is at the lowest it has ever been…the previous 1½ years inside the determinations unit has been miserable enough because of the division’s workload and lack of help with strategic planning from Washington…Now our leader is publicly referring to employees who are the ones producing all of this work with fewer resources than ever as low-level workers!

This is obviously more than a defensive response from a manager with a bruised ego.  I respect the way she stood up for her employees.  And because I know first-hand the condition the IRS is in (and the condition it has been in for several months now), I don’t doubt anything she said.  This email, though emotionally-charged as it is, goes to the heart of the scandal in a way that is more raw and sincere than anything we have seen to date.

Did Lerner Mishandle Official Emails?

These days I think few employers would have a problem with their employees using a company email account for personal matters.  As long as they are not goofing off while on the clock, it doesn’t cost the employer anything.  Although I am sure it is often listed as a prohibited activity in employee handbooks, I do not imagine it to be the type of rule that is strictly enforced.

But using a personal email account for business purposes is a bigger problem.  It would be unprofessional to send an official email from a personal account or to accept business emails on a personal account.  Sending internal documents from work to your own personal email account is an even bigger problem.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee apparently has been informed that Lois Lerner did just this.

Lois Lerner is the lady at the center of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal.  She was thrust into the spotlight back in May when she invoked her 5th Amendment rights, refusing to testify before Congress.  Presently, the Committee is asking Lerner to produce “all documents and communications housed in [her] account.”  She has until August 27th to comply, after which I would imagine she will be subpoenaed, after which I imagine her lawyers will dispute it as being overbroad.

What makes this behavior especially repugnant is that THIS IS THE IRS we’re talking about, not a private company!  This is a branch of the US Treasury that we trust will be able to play fairly and keep information safe and secure.  Let’s hope we find out that Lerner was actually only emailing herself an innocent meme or something…

IRS Scandal: Damage is Done

As we learn more about the recent IRS scandal, it appears that it was not limited to low-level employees in Cincinnati.  Top IRS officials in Washington may have known what was going on as far back 2011.  Although the president has promised a full investigation into the matter, much of the damage has already been done.  An alleged criminal who successfully defends himself in court is still sullied by the criminal trial itself.  Likewise, even if the IRS is successful in explaining away some of the accusations of political bias, there are many individual taxpayers who will have already lost faith in the IRS.

When people ask me about interacting with the IRS, I tend to speak very bluntly about the adversarial relationship; that the IRS is not on their side in looking for tax relief and that their one goal is to collect as much money from them as legally possible.  However, I stop short of saying that the IRS will cheat people out of the money they have earned or that they will treat some groups or people differently, even though I know for sure that it’s not out of the question.  No doubt this scandal raises some serious questions for the average taxpayer:

“If high-level IRS administrators will not deal fairly and neutrally with all taxpayers, or will turn a blind eye to bias, then why couldn’t it just as easily (or even more easily) happen with regard to my own individual taxes?” 

“If the IRS will not administer the tax laws fairly and neutrally, then why am I even paying?”

You’re not paranoid if you think you’re being targeted by the IRS for tax purposes.

According to CBS and Reuters, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is expected to publish an investigative report this week detailing that Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents specifically targeted conservative groups for review and consideration of their tax exempt status.

According to Reuters, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, Lois Lerner apologized Friday for what she called the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny, something the agency had long denied. She said the screening practice was confined to an IRS office in Cincinnati; that it was “absolutely not” influenced by the Obama administration; and that none of the targeted groups were denied tax-free status.

The TIGTA findings detail that the names and purposes of groups were used to scrutinize applications. Name scrutiny included organizations such as Tea Party, Patriot, and 9/12. Scrutiny was also being improperly given to references to government spending, government debt, taxes, education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to make America a better place to live; and statements that criticize how the country is being run.

IRS employees are presently prohibited from targeting anyone for their political or religious beliefs. However, under current law such conduct would only be grounds for termination. Wasting no time to ride the coattails of a juicy scandal, Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio already unveiled a bill to make such actions a felony. Considering that nobody seems to know anything in these types of cases, and that the portions of the report available so far appears to be no different, it will be interesting if anyone is ever prosecuted criminally if the bill were to pass.