- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2013

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday said the IRS scandal shows a “culture of cover-ups” and “political intimidation” within the Obama administration.

Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, while speaking at a hearing his panel held regarding the IRS’s improper targeting of tea party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, suggested the White House hid the scandal until after the 2012 elections.

“This appears to be just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups and political intimidation in this administration,” said Mr. Camp at the nearly four-hour hearing, the first of several that will take place on Capitol Hill on the matter.

Mr. Camp said the IRS scandal shows the tax-collecting agency has become too large and powerful and called for widespread reforms within he agency.

“This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation or two,” he said. “And as much as I expect more people need to go, the reality is this is not a personnel problem.”

Lawmakers from both parties — though especially Republicans — grilled Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, the hearing key witness, who apologized for his agency’s targeting conservative groups.

“The effected organizations and the public deserve better,” Mr. Miller said. “Partisanship or even the perception of partisanship has no place at the IRS.”

“We did horrible customer service.”

President Obama forced Mr. Miller to resign Wednesday. The acting commissioner took over as former Commissioner Douglas Shulman stepped down after the November elections.

At the time of the misconduct, Mr. Miller was not in charge of the agency, though he did hold a high-ranking position. His assignment as “acting commissioner” was scheduled to end in early June anyway.

Mr. Miller denied that political motivation was behind his agency’s singling out groups for special scrutiny that included the conservative buzzwords “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. Rather, he said “mistakes were made” by employees trying to tackle burgeoning workloads while vetting groups applying for tax-exempt status.

“The agency is moving forward. It has learned its lesson,” he told the panel. He said changes have been made to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.

J. Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, who oversaw a yearlong investigation of the IRS scandal, told the committee his probe found no examples of political intimidation in the IRS targets of conservative groups.

Mr. Miller complained his agency doesn’t have enough employees to handle a burgeoning influx of applications from organizations for tax exempt status. He said a staff of only 140 to 200 handle 70,000 applications for tax-exempt status.

“We try to move them along as fast as we can,” he said. “We do not have enough people right now.”

Republicans said they weren’t satisfied with Mr. Miller’s apology and explanations.

“I’m sad and I’m sick to my atom that Americans could be targeted for their political believes,” said Rep. Lynn Jenkins, Kansas Republican.

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

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

“I really hope that there is an opportunity to support the integrity of the Internal Revenue Service,” he said.

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

The inspector general’s audit, released Tuesday, singled out conservative groups for “burdensome” scrutiny because of their politically charged names and delayed approving some applications for so long that the groups simply gave up.

The independent 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.

But on Friday, Mr. Miller suggested the House committee his agency would implement all of the recommendations.

“There’s no air between us on the recommendations,” he said.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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