IRS acting chief Danny Werfel vows to fix ‘trust’ in agency

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The new Internal Revenue Service chief said Monday that his agency broke trust with the American people, and he vowed a speedy investigation to expose who approved the program that led to conservative groups being subjected to unwarranted questions while finding out if any other offices have engaged in similar political targeting.

As Congress began another week of hearings on the IRS scandal, more details emerged, including that the employees at the key office in Cincinnati refused to tell investigators who made the decision to put tea party groups under the microscope.


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Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, who President Obama moved from the White House budget office over to the IRS to clean house, said he will push to have the agency finish deciding on applications from dozens of groups still waiting to hear whether they will be granted tax-exempt status — including some that have been waiting for three years.

Mr. Werfel, testifying to a House Appropriations subcommittee, told lawmakers the agency he now leads broke faith with the country, and his chief task is to do what it takes to win back that trust.

“I’m prepared to follow the facts wherever they take us,” he said. “I think it’s the only way to restore the trust.”

Some Republicans questioned why he hadn’t fired anyone, including Lois Lerner, the former head of the division that scrutinizes tax-exempt organizations’ applications. Ms. Lerner was asked to resign but refused and was put on leave.

Mr. Werfel acknowledged Ms. Lerner is still being paid by taxpayers. He said he is awaiting a full review before he decides whether anyone needs to be fired.

The IRS has been reeling since Inspector General J. Russell George issued a report last month finding the agency gave special strict scrutiny to dozens of organizations that appeared to be conservative, targeting them based on their inclusion of words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their name.


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In addition to asking intrusive questions, the IRS also slow-walked many of the applications.

Mr. George said that as of the time of his audit in December, of the 296 applications singled out for review, just 108 had been approved, and another 28 were withdrawn. That left 160 still open — including one application that had been pending for 1,138 days.

The inspector general said it was noteworthy that despite the special scrutiny the IRS had yet to conclude that any application wasn’t worthy of tax-exempt status.

Mr. Werfel said his agency is due to give him a report by the end of this week on how it will work through the backlog it has created.

“I have also made clear that these applications must be examined in a manner consistent with the [inspector general] recommendations, so that the reviews, while thorough, are also fair and impartial,” he said.

Mr. Werfel said there is no need to give the IRS more money to fix the problems — but he may end up facing cuts if some Republicans have their way.

The agency has asked for a funding boost this year to begin to administer parts of the new health care law, which requires Americans to purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty.

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