It’s worth noting that the IRS is one of Washington’s least political agencies, at least in terms of staffing. It has only two political appointees. The top one, the commissioner at the time of the targeting, was appointed by Republican George W. Bush.
Obama told a news conference that “if, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.”
On Friday, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, called it “absolutely inappropriate and not the way we ought to do things.”
Her role in all of this could prove to be complex. She’s a career employee who was vigilant about not playing politics with IRS business, according to reporting by my colleague David A. Fahrenthold. Yet when she found out about and objected to the targeting in June 2011, it took almost a year before more general standards for auditing organizations were implemented.
Since Friday, the IRS has been like a turtle, withdrawing into a silent shell. The agency has not said whether anyone has been held accountable. The union representing IRS employees has been uncharacteristically quiet.
Obama and Lerner are right to call IRS targeting outrageous and inappropriate, but the deeds also could be sinful, at least under the commandments that govern the IRS.
The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 lists 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 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.