New IRS Leader Reveals Little of Probe
Workers at the Mystic Seaport H.B. duPont Preservation Shipyard lift an extension ladder into place on the starboard side after rolling the 19th century whaleship Charles W. Morgan the 50-feet from the side-track rails onto the mail shiplift rails system as part of the two-step process to return the ship to the waters of the Mystic River Monday, June 24, 2013 in Stonington, Conn. On Wednesday the ship will be rolled the 200-feet onto the shiplift and be lowered partway into the water to begin the process of swelling the planking to render the hull watertight. The Morgan, the last remaining wooden whaling ship remaining and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence as well as a National Historic Landmark, is slated to be re-launched on July 21st this summer and embark on its 38th voyage, a tour of historic New England ports in the spring of 2014. (AP Photo/The Day, Sean D. Elliot)
Washington — The temporary head of the Internal Revenue Service yesterday released a much anticipated but ultimately disappointing report on how the agency came to unfairly target tea party and other conservative organizations.
“The IRS is committed to correcting its mistakes,” Daniel Werfel, the temporary head of the IRS, said at the start of a briefing for reporters about his first 30 days on the job in the wake of a scandal over the extra scrutiny of conservative-leaning tax-exempt organizations.
Neither Werfel nor the report, “Charting a Path Forward at the IRS,” shed new light on how the criteria used to single out certain groups was developed or how right-to-life groups were told they would win tax-exempt designations only if they agreed not to picket in front of Planned Parenthood offices.
That violation of First Amendment protections is arguably the more egregious wrongdoing by IRS officials, and neither congressional investigators nor Werfel have yet said how it happened.
To date, said Werfel, there is no evidence of any intentional wrongdoing by IRS officials.
“I am not providing a definite conclusion that no intentional wrongdoing occurred,” he said, “but no evidence has yet surfaced.”
The lack of detail didn’t impress Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who heads the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and who has pressed the IRS for details for more than a year.
After a year of investigation by the IRS and a Treasury Department inspector general, “unsurprisingly the completion of this third internal review fails to meaningfully answer the largest outstanding questions about inappropriate inquiries and indefensible delays,” Issa said.
Werfel’s contention that he had found no evidence that anyone at the agency did anything intentionally wrong “can only be called premature,” the lawmaker added.
During the telephone briefing, Werfel announced that he had uncovered more of the now-infamous BOLO lists — shorthand for “be on the lookout for” — and that he had ordered them halted.
“We took immediate action to suspend the use of these lists,” said Werfel, named by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to take over the agency after President Obama fired the acting IRS commissioner, Steve Miller, on May 15.
The BOLO lists are at the heart of the controversy engulfing the IRS. Former agency leaders acknowledged the use of such a list to target groups that had “tea party” in their name, as well as names based on themes of the Founding Fathers, such as “constitution,” “Bill of Rights” and others.
Under questioning from reporters, Werfel said the agency would make public the other BOLO lists and many other IRS internal documents once confidential taxpayer information had properly been redacted. He did not give a timetable for release of such information.
“Believe me, I’m impatient, too, and I want to get to the bottom of this,” said Werfel, who before his appointment as acting commissioner had been a top official at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Asked directly about the fate of two big names in the scandal, Lois Lerner and Holly Paz, Werfel deflected the question.
“There are limitations imposed by the (federal) Privacy Act that prevent me from commenting with respect to a particular individual,” he said, stressing that all the people in top positions that involved elements of the IRS scandal have either resigned or been placed on leave.
“There has been leadership replaced at every level.”
Lerner triggered the probe by trying to get ahead of a negative report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general by apologizing at a legal conference where she was asked a planted question by an IRS advisory committee member.
When later called to testify before Congress, she declared that she did nothing wrong and then invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Werfel placed her on administrative leave.
Paz worked for Lerner and was present, for reasons not entirely clear, when the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration questioned IRS employees in Cincinnati about how the criteria now deemed inappropriate was developed.
Werfel, who announced an expedited approval process for tax-exempt organizations, is scheduled to appear Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee.