The report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration said the IRS’s tax-exempt unit was a bureaucratic mess, with some employees ignorant about tax laws, defiant of their supervisors and blind to the appearance of impropriety.
In his remarks, Obama said he would seek to put in place new safeguards to prevent the targeting from happening again and would work closely with a multitude of congressional investigations. He also suggested he might pursue a revamp of the laws governing political advocacy groups so they are less vague and “we can have confidence they are applied in a fair and impartial way.”
The inspector general’s report did not find that IRS employees involved in the screening were motivated by a partisan agenda. It suggested they were trying to come up with a more efficient system for screening applications from political advocacy groups, which have proliferated in recent years.
Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, wasn’t among those employees who participated in the screening, and he is known to be well liked among the agency’s 100,000 employees. The abuses in the tax-exempt unit occurred during the tenure of former commissioner Doug Shulman, a Bush administration appointee.
Still, lawmakers say Miller, among other IRS officials, failed to inform Congress that the IRS was targeting conservative groups despite multiple inquiries from Republican lawmakers.
In an internal message Wednesday, Miller wrote that “this has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS . . . and and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency.”
Marcus Owens, who headed the tax-exempt organizations division at the IRS from 1990 to 1999, said Miller, a 25-year career employee, was well respected at the agency.
“Steve was a very smart, capable guy,” said Owens, a member of the firm Caplin & Drysdale. Owens added it is not unusual to remove the head of an organization in the wake of a controversy: “You bring in fresh blood, fresh management and start anew.”
The IRS actions are being probed by six congressional committees, and Miller is expected to testify Friday before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Early Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said officials involved potentially should face jail time.
“The IRS admitted to targeting conservatives,” he said. “My question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.