A second senior official is leaving the Internal Revenue Service, as President Obama named a new acting agency chief while struggling to contain the fallout over the wrongful targeting of conservative groups.
Mr. Obama picked Daniel Werfel, a veteran civil servant who is now controller of the Office of Management and Budget, to take over as acting IRS commissioner from Steven Miller, who was forced out Wednesday.
“Throughout his career working in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Danny has proven an effective leader who serves with professionalism, integrity and skill,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on the same day that the second head rolled in the IRS scandal.
Joseph Grant, the commissioner for the agency’s tax exempt and government entities division, will retire early and leave the agency June 3, according to multiple media reports. Mr. Grant is in charge of the division that singled out conservative groups applying for nonprofit status for extra scrutiny, though he was not in charge when the bulk of the misdeeds happened.
In fact, the woman who headed the tax-exempt groups office from 2009 to 2012 is still at the IRS. Sarah Hall Ingram now directs the part of the IRS that oversees compliance with Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The IRS confirmed Ms. Ingram’s current position to ABC News on Thursday.
In remarks at a joint news conference Thursday in the White House Rose Garden with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Obama also sought to dispel any notion that he knew about the IRS singling out tea party and other conservative group for extra scrutiny, saying he first learned of the matter when an IRS inspector general investigation report was leaked to the press last week.
“My main concern is fixing the problem, and we began that process yesterday by asking and accepting the resignation of the acting director there and we will be putting in new leadership,” he said. “We will hold accountable those who have taken these outrageous actions.”
Republicans and several Democrats on Capitol Hill said Mr. Obama’s decision to fire Mr. Miller, though he already was scheduled to end his temporary stewardship over the agency in June, was a step in the right direction but far more questions still remain.
Members of Congress are especially interested in learning exactly who directed IRS employees to begin targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny and why several agency officials knew about the practice as early as 2011 but kept Congress and the public in the dark about it.
With multiple congressional committees announcing hearings into the partisan nature of the IRS action, Mr. Obama said his administration is implementing all recommendations made by an inspector general earlier this week and pledged to cooperate fully with Congress in its reviews.
Mr. Obama also argued that the targeting of conservative groups occurred in part because existing rules to determine the eligibility of groups that qualify as section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations is unclear and inadequate.
The administration is “looking at some of the laws that create a bunch of ambiguity that the IRS doesn’t have enough guidance … so the American people have confidence that the tax laws are being applied fairly.”
Republicans continued to call for a thorough investigation of the IRS singling out conservative groups, joining forces with tea party leaders Thursday on Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has tangled with the tea party on occasions, called the tax agency’s behavior an example of “runaway government at its worst.”
Tea party-affiliated and other conservative groups have accused the IRS of lengthy delays in processing their applications for tax-exempt status while hustling through similar liberal and progressive groups, and have requested specific details of their activity, what books the groups read and their membership lists.