By Benjamin K. Brenner, President
President Obama–through Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew–forced acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller to tender his resignation today following the recent disclosure that the IRS actively and unfairly targeted conservative and Tea Party groups applying for tax exempt status; a gross violation of a government body that is supposed to be above the political fray.
The outrage has now reached a fevered pitch, with the FBI now getting involved with the investigation. While the President and his administration appears to be insulated from the fall out thus far, criminal charges may be forthcoming, with a key person of interest being Lois Lerner who is in charge of the Tax Exempt division of the IRS:
“Lois Lerner lied to me,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who helped initiate the Congressional investigation of the I.R.S.
Ms. Lerner knew of the increased scrutiny given to Tea Party groups since 2010, but told reporters last Friday that she was not aware of any additional scrutiny given to any group and only heard about this through media reports. She along with many other IRS employees are expected to be called in front of congress shortly:
The House Oversight Committee requested five senior I.R.S. officials be made available for interviews by May 20, including the director of rulings and agreements, Holly Paz; a former screening group manager in the exempt-organizations determinations division, John Shafer; and a former advocacy group manager, Joseph Herr.
“Potentially dozens of I.R.S. employees are involved with the original targeting, the failure to correct the problem and the failure to promptly report the truth to Congress and the American people,” said Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for Mr. Jordan.
While Mr. Miller–and what is sure to be others–has taken the fall for this scandal, one can’t help but think what involvement if any the previous IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman had. Mr. Shulman had been commissioner since May 2008, and just recently stepped down last November. He oversaw an aggressive agenda that made some of biggest changes the IRS has seen in decades. While initially lauded, many of these changes have been riddled with delays, errors and met with contempt.
Mr. Shulman was integral in developing and integrating a universal licensing and annual continuing education requirements for professional paid tax preparers. But these requirements were halted by a federal judge right before the 2013 tax season began citing that the IRS did not have the authority to implement these requirements. The IRS appealed part of the decision, but again were overruled. With millions of dollars already spent and industries spawned to provide these paid preparer requirements, it seems like a foregone conclusion that eventually they will go into effect; either by appealing the decision or by going through a body that does have the authority to regulate the industry. Nevertheless, this new scandal will only serve to divert more time & energy away from this project, ultimately leaving the consumer to suffer the most.
Furthermore, Mr. Shulman led the charge in “modernizing” the IRS; particularly the Modernized E-File Program (MeP). With the new MeP, taxpayers would get their refunds in a matter of days, not weeks; all while being kept abreast of their entire filing process with faster updates. The only problem was that it didn’t work. The MeP was put into effect for the 2012 tax season. When it became clear that the MeP was not functioning, it was scrapped, and the IRS was forced to go back to their old E-File program for the remainder of the 2012 tax season. This year (2013) the IRS fully replaced the old program with the MeP, but the tax season was already riddled by delays, due to the last minute fiscal cliff negotiations. At first, the MeP was working as advertised: refunds were being released quicker, and the IRS even claimed you could get updates on refund statuses every 24 hours. But since then its been glitch after glitch, culminating in what has been dubbed the “Education Credit Debacle“, where the IRS allowed hundreds of thousands of tax returns with IRS form 8863 to be filed early causing serious delays. Some of the affected taxpayers could not even get verification that their returns were filed! And the problems haven’t stopped yet. As of the writing of this post, many taxpayers who filed in February & March still have not received their refunds and the IRS is offering no explanation. Last but not least, the new MeP has done next to nothing to combat the explosion of Identity Theft and Fraud that plagued the IRS is recent years.
Once again, it is the hardworking taxpayer that is getting the short end of the stick. If we don’t file our taxes on time, penalties, interest, garnishments, liens, levies, etc. can be and are assessed. But what happens when the IRS does not live up to it’s end of the bargain? As of now, it appears nothing. Supposedly the IRS must pay interest after a certain date if they do not release refunds, but that date is not static. All the IRS has to do (and has done) is send a “document request” like requesting a copy of your W-2s…EVEN THOUGH THE IRS ALREADY HAS ACCESS TO THAT INFORMATION. I have yet to see a taxpayer actually receive interest from the IRS. And the interest rate they supposedly give is far less than what IRS charges us if we are late.
While there is sure to be more to come out from this story, the politicization of it is not good news for anyone. Some politicians have been searching for a scandal ever since Obama took office. So now that they have one, how will it play out to a public so tired of other “scandals”? It’s the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” syndrome. And that is the crux of the problem. While our elected officials have their hearings, while IRS employees start losing their jobs, and the midterm campaign season heats up, average American taxpayers of all stripes, creeds and political affiliations are ultimately the ones that are being ignored.
Do you have an IRS horror story? Share it with us in the comments section.
Source: NY Times