TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1228

IRS Logo 2Forbes: Congress To IRS: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves, by Stuart Gibson:

A subset of House Republicans often disagrees with the priorities of their leaders. And the rules allow them to force a floor vote. Their most recent override of leadership’s priorities involves bringing to the House floor a resolution to impeach John Koskinen, who has served as commissioner of internal revenue for the past 33 months – perhaps the longest 33 months of his life. And here I side with leadership.

Koskinen was brought in to help the IRS recover from a 2013 scandal over its handling of applications for tax-exempt status by both right- and left-leaning groups. He took charge of the agency, bringing a can-do attitude and expertise from his experience in private industry. He cleaned house in the offending office and changed the way the IRS processes applications for tax exemption.

Koskinen’s problem was that he took office before congressional Republicans had extracted their pound of flesh from the agency that everyone loves to hate. Having decided upfront that the Obama administration had used the IRS to target its political opponents – a conclusion, unlike President Nixon’s well-documented enemies list, wholly unsupported by the evidence – Republicans began investigations to prove their predetermined conclusion. When they found no proof, they attacked Koskinen for failing to produce evidence confirming their view of what happened.

And it wasn’t just Koskinen. Viewing his alleged non-responsiveness as indicative of the agency’s overall unwillingness to perform sufficient penance for the sins committed by a few employees in one small corner of the agency, Congress placed a tourniquet on the IRS budget. And when that failed to elicit the desired outcome – whatever that might be – Congress tightened the tourniquet.

Here’s the problem: In an effort to punish the IRS institutionally, Congress has punished 90,000-plus dedicated employees who did nothing wrong, along with millions of American taxpayers. The best and brightest IRS employees are leaving – and they are not being replaced. Constituents endure unbearable wait times to get IRS assistance and receive poor service when they manage to reach a human being.

What is Congress’s goal? If it expects to improve taxpayer service by starving the IRS budget, impeaching its leader, and berating its employees, Congress will be disappointed. The longer the beatings continue, the harder it will be for the IRS to attract great – or even competent – leaders and employees, and the longer it will take for Americans actually to receive the service they deserve from the IRS.

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Comments

The IRS, intentionally and for good reason, lacks sufficient political control to really make the management structure a good fit for the american system of republican governance with democratic accountability. The IRS survives on the promise of studied partisan neutrality as an internal culture that polices itself. That internal control system failed. No matter how narrow or widespread the bad acts really were, the system of control failed and no useful reforms have come out of the affair beyond "trust us we won't do that again". That is plainly insufficient and will be the death of the income tax system in its entirety eventually if the problem is not solved. No government can forever afford to have an out of control, partisan agency that is constantly resisting oversight.

Posted by: TMLutas | Sep 18, 2016 8:43:44 AM

Cue the world's tiniest violin. If the IRS won't police itself and clean house, then Congress needs to step in.

Posted by: kishke | Sep 18, 2016 9:20:52 AM

TMLutas:

quit trying to whitewash the IRS's behavior. The IRS has not said "trust us we won't do that again", when pressed the IRS said 'we've stopped doing that, but we reserve the right to do that again'. Contra Stuart Gibson, I'm coming to the conclusion that the solution is to leave the IRS all the non-tax duties it has and create a new agency to administer income taxes. Perhaps two - one to handle individual income taxes and a second to handle corporations - would be better, so that a taint in one will not affect the other and they are less likely to get the 'we're too big for you to piss off' mentality which seems to be hampering any changes. Let the dedicated and honest employees go to the new agencies and handle taxes while leaving the more dedicated and corrupted employees to the unwilling-to-change IRS, doing all the non-tax stuff.

Posted by: max | Sep 18, 2016 10:28:55 AM

Well, for those of us crewing The Good Ship Lollipop, Commissioner John has not been that great of a turnaround artist. He's been picking fights with Congress, not leading internally, and hell bent on changing the agency in ways that are unsustainable. There's plenty of good reasons to impeach him that are actually his fault such as the entire Future State Initiative plus the continued botching of agency response to the transnational criminal network of phone scammers. Those are *his* scandals. Nobody will acknowledge this, though.

The day is coming when you won't be able to talk to anybody at the agency and will only have a broken web system to interact with. This isn't a far off dream but about 3 fiscal years away. John Koskinen has started that daring charge forward. He's lied about plenty of things (Taxpayer Assistance Centers all went appointment only in just 9 months instead of 3 years) beyond just the tax exempt issue.

He didn't turn around the agency. He's been busy making it self-destruct. I don't see how we're going to make it through another individual tax filers season with some of the new changes that just got announced to us. Doing more with less is leaving us with massive attrition in-house now.

Posted by: Lieutenant Blantyre | Sep 18, 2016 12:04:12 PM

Here’s the problem: In an effort to punish the IRS institutionally, Congress has punished 90,000-plus dedicated employees who did nothing wrong, along with millions of American taxpayers.

The public always pays the bill when government employees misbehave. That isn't an argument not to hold them accountable. Who would argue police shouldn't be held accountable for an extrajudicial killing just because taxpayers pay the bill?

And while there are a large number of IRS workers that had nothing to do with the illegal persecution of political dissidents, many did take part. That the innocent suffer isn't the fault of congress but of Obama's IRS which refuses to hold guilty parties accountable.

And as to Koskinen, he is just as guilty in the activities that took place as Lerner. He has willfully obstructed justice by lying to congress and destroying evidence. He was brought in by Obama to specifically do just that.

And that he was hand picked by Obama to obstruct justice and stab the rule of law in the back, it shows that Obama himself is culpable in the illegal actions that took place before and after Koskinen took over.

Posted by: wodun | Sep 18, 2016 4:08:58 PM

"The beatings will continue until morale improves." Welcome to the tactics of the private sector. The only thing left is to evaluate you against goals you have no control over, and drop your pay and benefits down to those enjoyed by the average American..

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Sep 19, 2016 4:41:55 AM

Mr. wodun: You state that “The public always pays the bill when government employees misbehave.” Not exactly. I suspect, from reading your vast collection of non sequiturs, that you are not a lawyer, so you are probably unaware of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and its progeny that have clogged the federal courts since 1971. Which is why, in some areas of public sector employment, public employees have found it necessary to purchase malpractice insurance, either individually or through a public service union.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Sep 20, 2016 9:21:36 AM