Facing fire, ousted IRS chief apologizes for tea party targeting

House GOP leader says White House may be to blame

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“This outrage is not Democrat and Republican. It involves the credibility of government as it relates to American citizens,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the panel’s senior Democrat, has called for Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, to step down.

GOP anger

But Republicans were particularly harsh on the IRS official, saying they weren’t satisfied with his apology and explanations.

“I’m sad and I’m sick to my stomach that Americans could be targeted by a government agency based on their political beliefs,” said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, Kansas Republican.

Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, said called the IRS’s action “chilling” and “very, very serious.”

Conservative groups have complained for more than a year that the IRS was targeting tea party groups, and repeatedly asked the agency last year for information on the matter.

On Friday Republicans accused Mr. Miller of failing to inform Congress of the IRS’s practice of targeting conservative groups even after he had been briefed on the matter last year. The IRS official denied he mislead Congress.

But Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, said lawmakers are partially to blame for the problem because Congress has “slowly been starving” the IRS budget while their caseload has ballooned. This, coupled with an expanded tax code, led lower-level agency officials to make dangerous shortcuts, he said.

“I also hope that we look at the task they’ve been given, the budget they’ve been given and think a little bit about maybe a rate of return that would more than pay for itself if we invested in training, in management and having more than 150 people to deal with the avalanche of these applications,” he said.

J. Russell George,Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration who oversaw a yearlong investigation of the IRS scandal, told the committee his probe has found no examples so far of a political motivation in the IRS‘ targeting of conservative groups. Mr. George, the hearing’s only other witness, called the IRS’s actions improper but said his investigation didn’t find any criminal activity by IRS personnel — though he added there will be “subsequent review on our part on this matter.”

The inspector general’s audit, released Tuesday, said the IRS’s singling out of conservative groups for “burdensome” scrutiny delayed approving some applications for so long that the groups simply gave up. Mr. George said that of the 170 cases in which the IRS asked for follow-up information, 98 included “unnecessary questions” that slowed down the application process.

Of the 296 applications for tax-exempt status the independent watchdog reviewed for its audit, 108 cases had been approved, 160 were still open and 28 were withdrawn. No cases had been denied.

Reforms eyed

The watchdog recommended the IRS make nine major reforms aimed at speeding up but also clarifying the agency’s approval process for tax-exemption — two of which the IRS initially rejected.

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