US & World

Obama announces resignation of acting IRS commissioner

The John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati where many of the missteps by IRS workers who targeted conservative groups occurred.
The John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati where many of the missteps by IRS workers who targeted conservative groups occurred.
Al Behrman/AP

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced the resignation of the top official at the Internal Revenue Service following a controversy over the agency's targeting of conservative political groups.

Obama, who has been criticized for appearing passive in his response to the matter, declared, "I am angry about it" and said the American people had a right to be angry as well.

Before announcing the resignation of Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, Obama met at the White House with top officials from the Treasury Department, which oversees theIRS. The White House scheduled the meeting a day after the release of an inspector general report that showed ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party groups for more than 18 months.

Miller became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

The president has proceeded cautiously since the IRS controversy was made public Friday. While he initially said the accusations were "outrageous," he also said he wanted to wait until the inspector general's report was released before addressing what should be done to hold accountable those responsible.

The report lays much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington who oversaw a group of specialists in Cincinnati who screened applications for tax exempt status. It does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups, but it does say a top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.

The Justice Department is also investigating the IRS targeting, as are three congressional committees.

10 Things We Learned From the IRS-Inspector General Report

Scintillating isn't how you'd describe the report issued by the Treasury inspector general's report on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups.

It was written, after all, by government bureaucrats for government bureaucrats. Enough said.

Still, peel back the careful, cautious and colorless language and there were some eyebrow-raising tidbits in the report that gave a sense of the dysfunction in the tax-exempt unit that allowed the controversial targeting to occur.

Here are ten of them:

  • The IG report was our first relatively source without skin in the game (like IRS and White House officials) to report that agency employees said no outsiders influenced them to target conservative applicants. (page 7)
  • The IRS employees responsible for applying greater scrutiny to groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" in their names were evidently incorrigible. After their boss told them to cease and desist they did, temporarily. Then they went back to doing their own thing, which meant using inappropriate filters to select applicants for additional review. (page 7)
  • At one point, in an agency of 106,000 workers, just one, presumably very overwhelmed bureaucrat had the job of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status that were selected for greater scrutiny because the information raised questions about their political activities. (page 5, footnote 14)
  • The inspector general says "it's considering" following up its first evaluation with a deeper dive into exactly how the IRS unit it studied monitors the political activities of the "social welfare" groups it grants tax-exempt status. It wants to make sure the unit knows when they such organizations cross the line to engage in too much politics. (page 4, footnote 12)
  • Even employees in the IRS' tax-exempt unit were stupefied by the rules about which they had to make decisions. They were so confused their bosses decided they needed hands-on training, after which an absurdly low and slow two percent application-approval rate soared. Given the political sensitivity of this part of the IRS' work, you might have expected the training to happen sooner. The problems remain however, according to the IG, and the guidance the workers labor under is vague at best. (page 14).
  • Some applications for tax-exempt status were, astonishingly, under review for as long as three years. What's even more remarkable is that even though the law gives applicants the right to sue the IRS if they failed to get a conclusive response from the agency within 270 days, none did, at least not during the two years of the IG's investigation. Maybe Americans aren't as litigious as they're often given credit for (page 16).
  • Even after the IG pointed out the error of their ways, IRS officials were, to some extent, were still not seeing things as clearly as the IG thought they should. For instance, IRS officials said issues the IG raised had been resolved. The IG flatly contradicted them, saying no, they hadn't been fixed. (opening memo)
  • Some applications from groups with evidence of substantial political activity weren't forwarded to the team that was given the task of giving applications extra scrutiny. Others that lacked evidence of significant political activity weren't sent to the IRS review team for further investigation. (pages 9-10).
  • IRS workers must watch a lot of TV cop dramas: They described their list of names to watch for as the "be on the lookout for" or BOLO list. (page 6.)
  • When the agency asked for additional information - information the IG ultimately deemed to be irrelevant to the applications in question - the IRS would ask applicants to meet their requests within three weeks even though the IRS had essentially sat on some of the applications for more a year. That's what New Yorkers would call chutzpah. (page 18)
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