EDITORIAL: A ship of fools
The federal government was meant to be understated in the way it does business: Civil servants give up opportunities in the private sector to selflessly toil in the public interest. In return, they’re all but fireproof. The actual behavior of the selfless servants at the Internal Revenue Service says it’s not working.
Given the scrutiny applied to the agency’s mistreatment of conservative groups, the Treasury’s inspector general decided it was also a good idea to see how IRS agents have been using agency credit cards. In a suitably understated tone, the auditors concluded the “purchase-card program lacks consistent oversight to identify and address inappropriate use.”
At stake is $108 million that IRS agents have put on their government-issued plastic over the past two years. The audit found that the tax men were letting the good times roll on the public dime, “entertaining foreign officials” and using “purchase cards to pay for multiple lunches, dinners and related alcohol purchases.” The tax agency’s liquid diplomacy cost the rest of us about $140 per participant.
The IRS didn’t bother to cancel credit cards of employees who quit or retired, meaning the party could continue long after the government “service” ended. Typical fraudulent purchases included “diet pills, romance novels, steaks, a smartphone, and baby-related items, such as bottles, games and clothing.” One hardworking agent used his card to subscribe to online pornography websites. Once the heat was on, misused cards became “stolen” cards. This is not quite the economic stimulus that President Obama told us he had in mind four years ago.
No private business would ever get away with such loose management under the ruthless scrutiny of an IRS auditor. The IRS deserves no leniency for its own misdeeds, either. This week, the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee began looking into the revelation that an IRS contractor named Braulio Castillo obtained a $500 million contract with special breaks because he called himself a “disabled veteran.” The poor fellow had injured his ankle at a military prep school. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Democrat, an actual disabled Iraq War vet, sounded the right note when she told Mr. Castillo, “I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again ‘to protect this great country.’”
We’re beyond the point where mere verbal outrage is enough. The Treasury Department’s internal investigators have turned up more than enough evidence of wrongdoing for Congress to order an outside audit of the IRS. Inside investigators have a tendency to let things be swept under a rug in the chief’s office. This abuse of taxpayers must be punished to the full extent of the law.
The usual internal audit ends with a few bad apples being lifted from the bottom of the barrel, and that won’t fix this problem. The fundamental fault lies in a tax code that is far too large, far too complicated. It puts excessive power in the hands of government officials. There’s no better time than now to scrap the tax code and replace it with something that works, a flat tax or maybe a “fair tax.” Anything would be better than life at sea aboard a ship of fools.
The Washington Times
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