Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Congress failed with IRS
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – The IRS is a pseudo independent agency of government that reports to the Secretary of the Treasury. It is a vast bureaucracy with only two political appointees, and the IRS commissioner at the time the agency began singling out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny was a Bush appointee, Douglas Schulman. He stepped down last year. Since then the IRS has been led by acting commissioner Steven Miller, who submitted his resignation in the wake of the Inspector General’s report citing rampant mismanagement in the agency.
There is no more feared federal agency than the IRS, and apparently, members of Congress share that fear. Why else did they fail so terribly in their scrutiny of the agency?
James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The same rule is applicable to bureaucracies, and we should assume the IRS isn’t staffed with angels, any more than the FBI or the CIA, other fearsome agencies that have been the focus of various scandals over the years.
Obama is playing a welcome role in assuring the American people that he’s on top of the IRS controversy, but the buck doesn’t stop with him. The improper targeting of conservative groups was uncovered by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, and the IG’s report, the result of many months of investigation, was released to the White House and the media late Tuesday. Obama then tasked his Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, to implement the report’s recommendations and clean house at the IRS.
Washington’s scandal culture always demands that heads roll, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in the wake of the report, “Now my question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
With three congressional committees holding hearings, and a Justice criminal probe underway in the matter, Boehner won’t get an answer for some time, and it’s not at all clear that anyone will go to jail. The IG’s report did not find evidence of political bias, and the fault that led to improper profiling may lie more with the proliferation of so-called “social welfare groups” and the lack of clarity in the rules about what passes muster to receive a beneficial tax status.
But the controversy could well have a chilling effect on the IRS’ ability to scrutinize groups that operate on one side or the other of the political divide, but seek to characterize their activities as mainly educational. The events of the last week should not be viewed narrowly, but rather as an example of how the IRS can over-reach, whether deliberately or not, and stoke fear among Americans who think they could be next if somehow they take a questionable deduction or have some number in their return that could be the red flag that triggers an audit.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, headed by the very aggressive Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is advertising its upcoming hearing into the IRS abuses as though it were the coming attractions for a Hollywood thriller. Truth is, Congress is late to the game. The appropriate committees should have been engaging in ongoing oversight of the IRS all along. To paraphrase James Madison, if all men were angels, we wouldn’t need oversight.
It’s worth recalling that Harry Truman gained his reputation during World War II when he traveled around the country inspecting defense plants, found there had not been appropriate oversight in the massive build-up for the war, came back to Washington and led a Senate committee that exposed waste, greed and mismanagement in the defense industry. The challenge for today’s Congress is to do what Truman did, put aside partisan concerns and do the job of oversight our elected representatives are elected to do.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND