Paul L. Caron

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The IRS Scandal, Day 338

IRS Logo 2Tax Analysts Blog: The Gift That Is Lois Lerner, by Christopher Bergin:

[W]hen you see all of what the Ways and Means Committee compiled about Lerner, it hardly paints a pretty picture of her. To me, it certainly shows that she did many stupid things and that she probably abused her power as a high-ranking IRS official. Did she break the law? I don’t know, but that is why I agree with Ways and Means Republicans that there should be a Justice Department investigation – although I thought one was already going on. ...

The bad behavior going on at the IRS – whether it is politically motivated or not – does not stop with Lerner. It has to go higher than that. How much higher, I do not know, but that’s yet another reason why we need an investigation – a real one.

And that is why I think the Ways and Means Republicans are doing the IRS – and, perhaps, the Obama administration – a huge favor. Making Lerner the scapegoat changes the conversation. It makes it about her. It’s not about her. It’s about the IRS. Something bad happened here. And however bad her behavior, the problem isn’t Lerner. The problem is a culture that allows what she did to continue and that probably allows behavior that’s much, much worse. That is what new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen must deal with.

And here is where I agree to some degree with Ways and Means Democrats. The GOP committee members have become so obsessed with the political dimensions of this scandal that they are forgetting their job -- a job they actually explain at the top of the letter to the DOJ. Their job is not to fix blame; it’s to fix the problem. Their job is not to destroy the IRS; it is to protect the rights of ALL American taxpayers. This scandal isn’t about Lerner; it’s about our tax system. If all of this goes to the White House, so be it. But it’s about getting to the truth, not getting to the president of the United States. You’d think the GOP would have learned that from Monica Lewinsky. Think what you want about that so-called scandal, but I think this so-called scandal poses a far bigger threat to the country.

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Mr. Bergin, you are right to a certain extent. The IRS has a culture problem, one that began way back with one of those well-meaning reform efforts. After one of the periodic attacks on the IRS, we reverted to a Plato’s Republic-like solution of a non-political Commissioner with a limited term. Theoretically, this highly educated and skilled Platonic creature would, for ten years, forego the seven-figure salary to which he or she had become accustomed, and run the hide-bound, underfunded, resource-starved, and alternately feared and hated tax agency out of the goodness of his or her heart and a spirit of public service. One of the first guys to take the job was Charles O. Rossotti, a basically well-intentioned private-sector type with zero tax administration experience. Commissioner Rossotti introduced then-current private sector business principals and business-speak into the Service and the Chief Counsel’s office. Rossotti’s private sector initiative combined with the rotting remains of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978’s ill-conceived “Senior Executive Service” to create a lethal executive culture within the IRS and Chief Counsel. Things have never been the same. Once the IRS and Chief Counsel senior bureaucrats adopted “modern” business practices and business-speak, they gradually forgot that the people they were serving were not merely customers, but citizens. It’s been downhill since then, with the agency being ruled by Lerners and others similar to Lerner, and with true public servants being passed over, marginalized, or retired. What the IRS and the Chief Counsel need is a complete housecleaning of their executive corps. Nothing less will suffice.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 14, 2014 11:44:52 AM

I agree with you but I don't think there is any incentive for the DOJ to investigate. Actually there is a huge disincentive.

Posted by: Rhoda R | Apr 12, 2014 3:22:14 PM