Adding to the recent IRS woes is an upcoming inspector general’s report expected to show that the agency spent an estimated $49 million on at least 220 conferences over a three-year span beginning in fiscal 2010. The House oversight committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on that matter Thursday.
Testimony at Monday’s hearing, before a House Appropriations subcommittee, came from the Treasury inspector general, J. Russell George, and new acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel, who served as controller of the Office of Management and Budget before taking on his new role with the embattled federal tax-enforcement agency.
Werfel’s presence changed the tenor of the questioning compared with previous rounds of inquiry, during which lawmakers prodded two former two IRS commissioners to apologize and suggested they had misled Congress about the agency’s problems.
This time, lawmakers focused on what Werfel would do to help the agency avoid future mistakes and hold those responsible for the targeting campaign accountable.
“We need to find out what happened,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee. “Who came up with this plan and why? How widespread were these abuses?”
Werfel acknowledged the problems identified in the inspector general’s report and said the issues had damaged public trust in the IRS. But he also defended the agency.
“I have only been with the IRS a few days, but it is clear to me that IRS employees take great pride in the work they do as nonpartisan civil servants dedicated to helping the nation,” he said, adding that the agency’s employees are “shocked and appalled” at the targeting campaign.
Werfel said the IRS would report by the end of the month on its progress in three areas: accountability for the problems, solutions to those problems, and a broader review of agency operations. These goals align with directives President Obama and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave Werfel when he took the job. The new acting commissioner also said the IRS needs to immediately address the backlog of tax-exemption applications that were held up under the targeting campaign. He said he has ordered the top tax-exemption officials to submit a plan for expediting that process without compromising fairness and impartiality.
George said again that his audit did not definitively determine whether the IRS’s inappropriate behavior was politically motivated, something administration officials have insisted was not the case. He said IRS employees would not acknowledge during the auditing process who gave the directive to target conservative groups. He has said in previous testimony that questioning IRS personnel under oath may yield more information on that subject.