The more people speak in defense of the IRS’s actions in targeting conservative and libertarian groups for scrutiny, the worse the situation becomes. Contrary to those defending the IRS:
- The “short cut” policy that resulted in conservative and libertarian groups being targeted for scrutiny was not a consequence of a sudden increase in applications. The policy preceded the increase.
- The policy was apparently used in Cincinnatti, Southern California, and Washington, DC. There was nothing isolated about it.
- The director of the Exempt Organizations Division, Lois Lerner, the woman who made the announcement last week that got this whole ball rolling, appears to have known about and been complicit in the policy
- That no one was actually injured in the matter is simultaneously false and irrevelant. Intimidation is an injury.
- That Republicans benefit politically is irrelevant. Where does judging how we should react to bad behavior or wrongdoing based on political benefit end? Obviously, not at murder. I’ve seen any number of comments on the trial of Kermit Gosnell, recently convicted of three counts of first degree murder for infanticide and one of involuntary manslaughter in the death of one of his patients, that suggested that such a trial outcome would be bad because it would give so much fuel to the pro-life movement.
None of these defenses can be seen as tenable. They’re simply raw partisanship.
The federal civil service was originally founded in the 1880s in reaction to the assassination of President Garfield at the hands of a frustrated applicant for a federal job. Ms. Lerner and, no doubt, most of those involved in these IRS actions aren’t political appointees but civil service employees. I’m sure that they have decades of glowing performance reviews in their files and short of criminal conviction without a pattern of bad behavior there is for practical purposes no way to get rid of them.
The now-disgraced Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, once Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, arguably the third most powerful position in the House after the Speaker and the Majority Whip, was quoted as saying “Never take a bribe. Just hand ’em your business card.” Since I seriously doubt there was ever an agreement among the various IRS offices, there’s no conspiracy involved. The effect was certainly conspiratorial.
The modern civil service was founded to establish an explicit procedure for hiring and firing federal employees and to place the civil service above politics. What happens when members of the civil service pursue their responsibilities as political actors rather than as above politics? What happens when they can’t even recognize that’s what they’re doing?
My preference would be for a federal civil service that was, in fact, above politics. Civil service employees are human and, consequently, political. That means that strong, persistent oversight of the activities of civil service employees is a necessity. Right now their managers are either complicit or asleep at the switch.