IRS targeting of political groups might be one of agency’s ‘deadly sins’

The targeting of political organizations by the Internal Revenue Service is not only “absolutely inappropriate,” as the agency acknowledged Friday, but it also might be a “deadly sin,” according to an IRS reform law from 1998.

Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that  oversees tax-exempt organizations, said about 75 groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names received extra IRS screening between 2010 and 2012.

“That’s absolutely inappropriate and not the way we ought to do things,” she told a telephone briefing with reporters.

More than inappropriate, the actions might be sinful, at least under the law that governs the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 lists 10 actions that have been dubbed the “10 deadly sins.” The statute says the IRS commissioner “shall terminate the employment of any employee” if there is “a final administrative or judicial determination” of the misconduct.

The 10 sins, as listed by the Government Accountability Office are:

1. Willful failure to obtain the required approval signatures on documents authorizing a seizure of a taxpayer’s home, personal belongings, or business assets.

2. Providing a false statement under oath with respect to a material matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.

3. Violating the rights protected under the Constitution or the civil rights established under six specifically identified laws with respect to a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the IRS.

4. Falsifying or destroying documents to conceal mistakes made by any employee with respect to a matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.

5. Assault or battery of a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or employee of the IRS but only if there is a criminal conviction, or a final judgment by a court in a civil case, with respect to the assault or battery.

6. Violating the Internal Revenue Code, Department of the Treasury regulations, or policies of the IRS (including the Internal Revenue Manual) for the purpose of retaliating against, or harassing a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the IRS.

7. Willful misuse of the provisions of Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry.

8. Willful failure to file any return of tax required under the Internal Revenue Code on or before the date prescribed therefore (including any extensions), unless such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.

9. Willful understatement of federal tax liability, unless such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.

10. Threatening to audit a taxpayer for the purpose of extracting personal gain or benefit.

Targeting certain taxpayers potentially could violate sins number 3 and 6. Lerner did not say if any employees have been disciplined.

Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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