- - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

After revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was restricting political speech and targeting conservative and tea party groups, John Koskinen was appointed to head the agency, promising reform and transparency.

These promises never came to fruition. Instead of admitting fault, Mr. Koskinen’s IRS refused to admit wrongdoing and undertook a concerted effort to evade and stonewall congressional investigations.

Investigations into the Lois Lerner targeting scandal have since concluded. A detailed report compiled by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has determined that the IRS misled Congress and failed to serve the American people during the targeting and the resulting investigation.

Now the agency must be held accountable from the top down.

Following the release of the findings, congressional investigators called on Mr. Koskinen to resign. He refused.

Investigators called on President Obama to remove him. The president refused.

Then last month, the Obama Department of Justice announced that no IRS employee, including Lois Lerner, would face criminal charges over targeting conservative groups. The Justice Department dismissed the treatment of groups as mere “mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,” despite the fact that just one conservative group was granted nonprofit status in the three-year time period between February 2009 and May 2012.

The next logical step is to impeach Mr. Koskinen, and Mr. Chaffetz has done what he should by introducing articles of impeachment.

Given the body of evidence, the House Judiciary Committee should begin impeachment proceedings immediately.

While it may seem drastic, the case to impeach is clear.

Throughout the investigation into this IRS targeting scandal, Mr. Koskinen failed time and time again to provide important information and perform basic due diligence. Mr. Koskinen’s own statements before Congress were frequently misleading.

The IRS failed to search five of six possible sources of electronic media for Lois Lerner’s emails. The only source searched — her hard drive — was destroyed after a brief search, even though documentation suggests that due diligence to recover all data was not performed.

Later, the agency’s ineptness — or corruption — resulted in 24,000 Lerner emails being lost forever when they were “accidentally” destroyed, despite IRS management issuing an agencywide preservation order months earlier.

Mr. Koskinen withheld much of this key information from Congress. He failed to mention both the preservation order and the destruction of tapes, and failed to disclose details regarding Lois Lerner’s mysteriously destroyed hard drive during testimony before Congress. At times Mr. Koskinen’s testimony was based on information that was out of date.

The IRS blames all of these discrepancies and missteps on the supposed carelessness of employees and management, but the agency had no intention of complying with investigators.

Rather than do nothing or give up, members of the House Oversight Committee should be applauded for fighting IRS overreach and holding the agency and the administration accountable.

It is critical that the IRS be perceived as an impartial, nonpolitical agency. Its job is to administer the tax code in a fair way. But under Commissioner Koskinen, it has undeniably and unrepentantly involved itself in the political arena.

The IRS‘ failure to serve the American people extends far beyond its role in the Lerner targeting scandal.

In another attempt to clamp down on political speech, the agency has been caught using a twisted interpretation of the gift tax to harass individuals donating to political nonprofits. No serious tax expert would agree with the agency’s interpretation, but that has not stopped the IRS.

In fact, stopping this practice is so noncontroversial that legislation championed by Ways and Means Oversight Republican Chairman Peter Roskam of Illinois to stop the gift tax loophole passed the House unanimously months ago. Unfortunately, the legislation remains stuck in the Senate.

The IRS‘ failure to serve the American people does not end with its assault on political speech. All too often, the agency has wasted resources even as Mr. Koskinen insists they do not have the funds to properly operate.

Case in point: The agency’s decision to hire a litigation-only white-shoe law firm to perform an audit of Microsoft. This unusual (and possibly illegal) action attracted the scrutiny of Senate Finance Committee Republican Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, who has pointed out the IRS wasted over $1,000 an hour and a total of well over $2 million on this elite law firm. Perhaps worse, the firm had no experience handling sensitive taxpayer data, unlike the IRS Office of Chief Counsel or Justice Department attorneys, both of which were available at far less cost.

This wasteful spending goes beyond a single, isolated case. The IRS has also spent more than 500,000 hours, or $23.5 million a year on union activities, and gave 57 contracts worth a total of $18.8 million to corporations had federal tax debt or a felony convictions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a report by the National Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report to Congress concluded that the IRS is unable to justify spending decisions.

While it is clear that there is much to fix in this out-of-control agency, reform can only go so far as long as the commissioner remains so intent on behaving as a political actor.

Step One must be installing new leadership. John Koskinen should be impeached.

Alexander Hendrie is federal affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform.

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