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EDITORIAL: The sacking of Lois Lerner

Unanswered questions remain in the IRS political scandal

Lois Lerner, the scourge of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, sacked herself Monday before the bureaucracy could do it. She apparently got a tip about what was coming and decided to take the money and run. She keeps the pension she earned for 34 years with the federal government.

As the prime suspect in the scandal over how the IRS decided which groups got the coveted designations and which didn't, Ms. Lerner may still have to answer further questions from Congress. She leaves with a generous pension. "A typical federal employee with an annual salary of $177,000 and 34 years of federal service would earn an annuity of $113,722 a year," a senior Hill aide close to the congressional investigation tells The Washington Times. She would have been eligible for "the same amount" if she had been fired.

The internal IRS review found that she had mismanaged her department and was "neglectful of duties," but it did not recognize questions about political bias in the heightened scrutiny and dilatory processing of 501(c)4 applications from conservative political groups. This conflicted with the findings of Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George, who said in a June 26 letter to Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat, that six liberal groups were targeted for the lengthy, intrusive IRS reviews, compared to 292 conservative groups over a two-year period. This works out to a ratio greater than 48 to 1. Nice work, if you can get it, and if you're a liberal group, you can probably get it if you try.

Ms. Lerner's departure is likely to prompt Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Senate Finance committees to suggest that her departure lays the scandal finally and fully to rest. But it doesn't. "We still don't know why Lois Lerner had such a personal interest in directing scrutiny and why she denied improper conduct to Congress," says Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House oversight panel. "Her departure does not answer these questions."

Despite invoking the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify before Mr. Issa's panel, Ms. Lerner remains under subpoena and could be called back by the committee. She could be offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony as to how far up the IRS chain of command the scandal reaches, and whether anyone at the White House directed Ms. Lerner's hand.

Ms. Lerner's drawn-out farewell tour raises another question: Why is it all but impossible to fire a federal employee, no matter how lazy, derelict or incompetent? Ms. Lerner lost her job, but she'll walk away with $114,000 a year for life. If nothing else, her case demonstrates the need for reforming the system. Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay a generous pension to those who, however long-serving, are sacked for incompetence or shady — or at least shoddy — official behavior.

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