Lawmakers Take Aim at IRS Abuses

July 16, 2013
GARDNER:  "The IRS is too big and too political. Legislation to reign the agency in and bring accountability is an absolute must"

GARDNER: “The IRS is too big and too political. Legislation to reign the agency in and bring accountability is an absolute must”

WASHINGTON — As three more IRS employees are scheduled to testify before Congress this week, a U.S. Representative from Colorado said cutting the budget of the embattled agency would make it more accountable to taxpayers.

“The IRS is too big and too political. Legislation to reign the agency in and bring accountability is an absolute must,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) said in a statement. “To simply do nothing as they target Americans for political thought is unacceptable.”

Last Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee passed legislation that chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky sponsored that would slash the budget of the agency to $9 billion from $12 billion a year.

The same day, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia unveiled proposals that seek to make federal employees more accountable. One measure would allow people to record conversations between them and federal employees, while another would allow agencies to put senior career officials on leave without pay if they are being investigated for abuses.

Rogers’ and Cantors’ proposals represented House leadership’s first legislative response to the two-month old IRS scandals.

IRS officials have acknowledged they targeted groups that applied for taxpayer exempt status as 501 (c) 3 organizations with the names “tea party,” “patriots,” and “9/12″ in them.

Internal documents from the IRS show that officials looked for words from groups that had “Occupy” and “Progressive” in their title, but the liberal-sounding organizations did not have their applications delayed.

A month after the abuses came to light, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) revealed that IRS senior employees are scheduled to receive $70 million in bonuses this year.

Last Tuesday, acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel said he will seek to halt the bonuses, but his authority to do so is unclear. Union President Colleen Kelley has indicated she will fight for the senior employees to receive the monetary awards.

Attempts to reach Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder as well as GOP Representatives Scott Tipton of Cortez, Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, and Mike Coffman of Aurora were unsuccessful. Members of the House are scheduled to return to Washington for votes Tuesday evening.

Efforts to slash the budget of the Internal Revenue Service might have uncertain and contradictory effects.

On the one hand, cutting the budget of the agency might result in fewer dollars in the federal treasury, according to a 2012 report from the Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS’ internal watchdog. The agency brought in $7 for every $1 spent — $2.52 trillion on a budget of $11.8 billion.

On the other hand, trust in the IRS has declined. Forty-five percent of Americans said they blamed civil-service employees for targeting tea-party groups, according to an ABC-Washington Post survey in May. Another 35 percent blamed the Obama administration.

In addition, the Taxpayer Advocate report found that a caller to the IRS waits an average of 17 minutes on the phone before reaching a representative and that one in three callers are unable to contact the agency.

Three IRS employees with ties to the office in Cincinnati, Ohio that targeted conservative groups are scheduled before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Thursday.

Whatever the outcome of the hearing, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives intends to pursue the investigations. In a memo released July 5, Cantor listed “stopping government abuse” as the second most important agenda item of the House this month.

Yet Republicans might face a fight from Democrats. President Obama proposed a budget increase — $13 billion — for the tax agency this fiscal year.

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