A Series of Unfortunate Incidents

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The policy was apparently used in Cincinnatti, Southern California, and Washington, DC. There was nothing isolated about it.
  3. 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
  4. That no one was actually injured in the matter is simultaneously false and irrevelant. Intimidation is an injury.
  5. 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.

55 comments… add one
  • Michael Reynolds

    I agree completely. There is no excuse and attempting to excuse this behavior just makes the thing worse. This is the sort of thing Treasury secretaries should resign over. If not this, then what?

  • The president himself made things a bit worse by characterizing the IRS as an independent agency yesterday. It isn’t. It’s part of the Treasury Department. The Federal Reserve, a public/private hybrid, is an independent agency. The IRS is part of the executive branch.

    The IG’s report seems to suggest more education as the solution. Quite to the contrary, I think the problem is a management problem which education can no nothing about.

    If no actual crime has been committed and there’s no paper trail of bad behavior going back over years, there’s probably no recourse with respect to the civil service employees who were actually involved. The Civil Service Code specifically shields them in cases like this. In essence, they can only be removed in the case of criminal behavior, a documented pattern of misbehavior, or reduction in force.

    The real recourse is to abolish the IRS and create a new agency. Never happen.

  • The Age of Competence

    This is the sort of thing Treasury secretaries should resign over. If not this, then what?

    Wow, that’s bold stuff right there. Calling for the tax cheating Treasury Secretary to resign (presumably to insulate Barack’s skinny black ass) is truly a bold stance on your part. Especially since Geithner left office back on January 25th of this year. In other words, you are calling for exactly no punishment at all.

    Also, it now seems that certain tax information was given to one of Barry’s campaign co-chairs last year. But of course, that had NOTHING to do with ANYTHING related to Barack Hussien Obama in any way whatsoever.

  • The Age of Competence

    The president himself made things a bit worse by characterizing the IRS as an independent agency yesterday. It isn’t. It’s part of the Treasury Department.

    -and-

    I think the problem is a management problem which education can no nothing about.

    Not if the person ultimately responsible, the chief executive officer of the United States Federal government, says he has nothing at all to do with the agency. When the people in charge say they’re not in charge, that gives everyone down the line free reign to do as they please.

    Obama has also said this week he has nothing to do with how the Justice Department works. He’s previously said he had nothing to do with what State did or didn’t do and what the Defense Department did or didn’t do with regards to Benghazi.

    Exactly what the fuck is he in charge of? The Interior Department?

  • TastyBits

    There have calls to stop using Benghazi to beat up the President and Hillary Clinton, but the partisans on the right have refuse. Their claims about the horrors of Benghazi are hollow. Both the left and right are morally corrupt and intellectually dishonest. Trying to engage in an honest debate is almost impossible.

    This reminds me of the 90’s. If you believed Vince Foster really committed suicide, you were deemed a flaming liberal. If you thought Ruby Ridge and Waco were a problem, you were deemed a baby-eating conservative. This culminated in President Clinton being impeached over a blowjob.

    @Dave, I am not trying to threadjack, but your blog is an oasis. I have mostly tuned out the politics. If you Chicagoans want some company, google Mother’s Day New Orleans.

    I think part of the civil service problem is unions. I do not recall the workers being political, but they were bureaucratic. They would never tried to streamline any process. Bureaucrats believe in the system they are working under, and they would not want to exclude anybody.

  • The Age of Competence

    The real recourse is to abolish the IRS and create a new agency. Never happen.

    Not without a complete overhaul of the way the government collects revenues, meaning a massive change and simplification of the tax code. And that won’t happen because screwing with the tax code is the bread and butter of Congress, and they’re not going to give it up.

  • Exactly what the fuck is he in charge of? The Interior Department?

    Well, Seal Team 6 for sure. There are multiple references in the major media outlets to “President Passerby”. I hope the president treads very carefully. A punching bag would be better than a punchline.

  • michael reynolds

    In defense of the civil servants at IRS, I’ve had nothing but pleasant interactions with them. Last time the woman on the phone said, “You surprised me when you gave your DOB as 1954. You have a much younger voice.” We ended up chatting about kid’s books.

    Even the time they sent someone to my house (once again, money management not my strong suit) we got along fine.

  • michael reynolds

    Ice:

    I think it’s time you got an icon. I gather you don’t want to show us your face, so maybe something like this?

    http://s1.hubimg.com/u/3314396_f260.jpg

  • The Age of Competence

    I’ve shown my face elsewhere. Here’s a link, turd boy.

  • Cstanley

    Exactly what the fuck is he in charge of? The Interior Department?

    Well, Seal Team 6 for sure.

    Well, Jon Stewart jokes that even that is now questionable:

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama learned Osama bin Laden had been killed when he saw himself announce it on television.”

  • The Age of Competence

    Looking more and more like the IRS had appointed itself to be the Administration’s Thought Police:

    The Internal Revenue Service asked tea party groups to see donor rolls.

    It asked for printouts of Facebook posts.

    And it asked what books people were reading.

    A POLITICO review of documents from 11 tea party and conservative groups that the IRS scrutinized in 2012 shows the agency wanted to know everything — in some cases, it even seemed curious what members were thinking. The review included interviews with groups or their representatives from Hawaii, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere.

    This is actually funny stuff! It’s going to be a riot watching the press walk all this stuff back later this summer and claim it doesn’t matter. (Reynolds has already started the process on his own: He’s called it unacceptable, but then called for firing someone who has already quit, and is now defending the IRS staffers that were allegedly the problem. Perfect spin!)

  • The Age of Competence

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama learned Osama bin Laden had been killed when he saw himself announce it on television.”

    LOL! I can imagine the President thinking “THAT’S why they took that picture of me and the staff watching the NCAA Men’s Final in the Situation Room!”

  • PD Shaw

    From the “Administration’s Thought Police” link:

    “Julie Hodges of the Mississippi Tea Party said the group has less than $800 in its account and relied on volunteer lawyers to deal with the IRS. It withdrew its application for 501(c)(4) status in early 2012, citing the delays and questions.”

    The irony here is that with $800 in its account, it was essentially exempt from scrutiny. It didn’t need to file the application; it wouldn’t need to submit an annual return, so long as it didn’t have much revenue. Perhaps that’s what the free lawyers told them to do.

    I agree with Reynolds, this is unusually abysmal behavior on the part of the IRS. The Inspection Report notes that the duty of the IRS is to help people understand and meet their responsibilities. That should mean making sure these groups understand the limitations of any political activities they might contemplate, not conduct an adversarial litigation process to determine their hidden thoughts or future tendencies.

  • jan

    This is actually funny stuff! It’s going to be a riot watching the press walk all this stuff back later this summer and claim it doesn’t matter.

    Complaints about the IRS have been in the mill for several years now — that they were disproportionately going after conservative groups with audits. But, the MSM all but ignored them. And, what isn’t reported by the press is usually ignored by complacent people — the ones not feeling the heat of government intrusion.

    That’s why foreign policy doesn’t cause many to break a sweat, as they aren’t directly effected by what goes on overseas. It’s a shame, because misdeeds not immediately addressed tend to flourish, until their ‘unintended consequences’ reach a larger population. Only when you feel the stranglehold of governmental injustice does it then become an important issue to you. By then, though, a lot of people are hurt, and damage control and rectification becomes a much bigger problem.

    Ironically it is also being reported that the IRS not only targeted conservative groups more, but also expedited the applications of progressive groups much faster — something like 9 months, if you were liberally inclined, to 27 months if you held conservative POVs.

  • michael reynolds

    Ice:

    Jesus, dude, can you get through a paragraph without lying?

    I condemned both the IRS scandal and the AP fishing expedition from the very first. Not walking anything back. No need to. Unlike you I don’t start with emotion. The whole world is not about my pain.

    Meanwhile, though. . . can one of you point me in the direction of your prediction that we’d be seeing dramatically lower deficits in May of 2013? Anyone?

    Yeah, I thought not.

  • The Age of Competence

    Complaints about the IRS have been in the mill for several years now — that they were disproportionately going after conservative groups with audits. But, the MSM all but ignored them.

    Sure they did, their was an election to win. Now that they’ve won they’ll pretend to do their jobs for a little while. Then they’ll obfuscate later in the summer when its too damned hot for most people to care, and then they’ll bury it in the Autumn, or maybe burn it up with the leaves after they fall.

    Reynolds, I’m not aware of making any predictions on the direction of the deficit for FY 2013. I will note that the original budget forecast something like a $900,000,000,000 deficit, so once again Obama’s numbers guys fucked things up too.

    But there was too much uncertainty about what tax rates would actually be in effect after January 1 2013 to make a decent prediction. It SHOULD have come down with the increase in taxes on working poor and middle class people, and it has. (Odd how you aren’t bragging about that.) There may also be an effect from people cashing in assets at the end of 2012 to avoid 2013 tax increases. That remains to be seen.

    However, I did comment in the past on Obama’s predictions on the deficit in prior years. His people have been wrong on their six month forecasts repeatedly, and never in the right direction. There’s also the small matter of the President saying he would halve the deficit in his first term. Since when was a trillion dollars half of 480,000,000,000 (or whatever the final figure was on FY2008)? Maybe he just can’t do math. (We already know that you can’t.)

    As for starting with emotions: You are the one who as recently as last week said that Drew wanted black people back in chains and further wanted a few niggers for himself. What brought that on, Drew’s impassioned pleas for a more business friendly Administration, or wasn’t it a burning rage from your desire to exterminate all people guilty of not worshiping Obama’s half-black ass?

    BTW, this earlier comment was the first I’ve heard you mention the AP story. Maybe I missed something, but this is the first time I’ve noted it. We’ll see how long before you back up from that. But so far your reply to the IRS scandal is that someone that has already left office should be fired, and “Hey, I like anonymous IRS bureaucrats!” Given that you’ve called Drew a slaver for far less, your condemnation of the IRS scandal is hollow. And I’ll note that you are NOT calling for Holder to be fired. So, nothingburgers from you.

  • jan

    There’s also the small matter of the President saying he would halve the deficit in his first term.

    There were so many criticisms of the Bush administration, made by Obama, that have now been duplicated and even ratcheted up. For instance, instead of water-boarding terrorists to get information, Obama savors a ‘kill list,’ and just mows them down with drones, diminishing the gathering of information.

    Yep, Obama has not only grown the deficit, but also now reversed his dislike for raising the debt ceiling too. Under Bush it was unpatriotic to not show leadership in reducing the deficit by not raising the debt ceiling. But, such turnarounds of rhetoric go unnoticed by the press and the fawning progressive left.

    Government transparency was also promised, as well as locking out of lobbiests. How is that going? This administration is now considered the least transparent of all and lobbiests and Obama bundlers are given free reign and jobs in the WH. It’s all crazy and so unlike what was promised in Obamaspeak before he took office.

  • PD Shaw

    FWIW/ michael is being referred to as a useful idiot now at OTB for expressing outrage over the IRS scandal. Its probably worth noting that a number of left-of-center commentors over there did as well when the story brok. Its just that I think many of the useful idiots don’t have a sustained level of outrage or interest, and the left-of-center voices that are the loudest now are defending outrageous behavior.

  • jan

    FWIW/ michael is being referred to as a useful idiot now at OTB for expressing outrage over the IRS scandal.

    If that is true, I have to give Michael respect for taking an unusual unpopular stand from those who comprise his literary fan club. He normally has the most ‘thumbs up’ of anyone over there, even if his comment is no more than a glib one-liner.

    Isn’t it extraordinary, though, how both the hard left and hard right cannot tolerate any dissension of opinion from what the prevailing consensus believes to be true? And, rather than discuss their differences, they default to name-calling, mockery, and tearing a nemesis down.

  • Red Barchetta

    Tasty

    I think you are perhaps invoking the bizarre fringe in an attempt to make your point. It would be better to look at the high volume portions of the parties.

    Just one man’s opinion.

  • Red Barchetta

    jan

    I second that. Hope……

  • Red Barchetta

    Oh, and that’s why I almost never go there anymore. The commenters are fucking nuts.

    Sorry, I worked in a steel mill.

  • jan

    The commenters are fucking nuts.

    I don’t swear much, but also vicariously enjoy seeing it applied in the right place. That comment was well deserved by most, not all, of the regulars over at OTB. Furthermore, when posters come back and comment that the site has degenerated into like-minded posting, they get some kind of stuck-up response from Steven Taylor, saying in as much “Is that just another way of saying you don’t agree with them?”

  • Red Barchetta

    I don’t agree with Steven very often, and I think he has a blind spot, and as you say, a stuck up response is frequent. (Heh, most would say the same about me.) But what has he really done? Show me the results.

    Anyway, do you remember the George Carlin skit about the seven words you can’t say on TV? In a steel mill those are the seven words you use most often.

  • jan

    I love George Carlin, but don’t remember that particular piece on ‘seven words.’ If you ever see it on the web, post it here so I can see it.

  • Red Barchetta

    I will try to find it…………but let your mind wander.

  • TastyBits

    @Drew

    If you can point me towards the saner folks on the left and right, please do.

    If something were so terrible we wanted to find out what occurred, politics would not be a concern. Is anybody going to let their child die rather than allow an abortion doctor to work on them?

    Where are the people willing to forego political gain in order to determine what went wrong and how to prevent it? How many Democrats want to have a real investigation into the intelligence failures leading to the Iraq War?

    I would like a little philosophical consistency, intellectual honesty, and integrity in the debate, but it is often difficult to find.

  • Andy

    Michael,

    How does it feel to be a heretic?

    I’m not going to even bother wading into that morass at OTB. The number of people who think the IRS was justified because the tea party groups support lower taxes is appalling. That’s like saying that the IRS under GWB would be justified in enforcing a higher standard for groups opposed to the Iraq war.

    The question of the appropriate level of taxation is inherently political which is something those people are too dumb to realize in their partisan zeal. Not even the IRS IG agree with them, it’s pathetic.

  • How does it feel to be a heretic?

    I think that Michael is less a heretic than an iconoclast. It’s one of the things I love about him.

  • steve

    The data bout when this started changes things a bit. There may have been political motivation. I still think it likely that the grunts just wanted to make things easier for themselves. They should be investigated, but the brunt of the effort should be directed at management.

    Steve

  • Andy

    I think that Michael is less a heretic than an iconoclast.

    I agree with that, but I think the OTB left-of-center commentariat sees heresy.

  • Cstanley

    @ steve- I not only disagree with the “making it easier on themselves” hypothesis, I challenge the logic of it. How would it make things easier on them to create a long list of requirements to process these applications?

    I’ll grant though, that once a decision is made to put extra scrutiny on a certain type of group, the ” shortcuts” like using keyword searches was a timesaver but the decision of how to process these definitely led to more work, not less. It’s much easier to rubberstamp the applications, and even if they were being pressured not to have the appearance of doing that they could have (and should have, of course) used a random selection technique.

  • PD Shaw

    @Cstantly, its like the cheating husband who tries to minimize his irresponsibility by complaining that he had been working long hard hours at work, where things had been hectic, and one thing led to another. And then the pissed off wife counts all of the things he had time for: getting a new cell phone account and credit card, buying gifts for your mistress, arranging afternoon trysts at a hotel . . ..

    I’m personally not that impressed with an extra thousand or so 501(c)(4) applications; I would have thought the numbers would have been much higher, and I don’t think they require that much work to review to begin with.

  • PD, you’re not taking into account one of Parkinson’s laws: work expands to fill the time allotted to it. When a given staff is accustomed to a workload of, say, 1,500 applications, even if the staff’s theoretical capacity is 5,000 applications, an additional 1,000 applications is an intolerable burden. In a bureaucracy work avoidance is one of the main objectives. That and the related accountability avoidance.

  • Cstanley

    The point remains though, that flagging specific types of applicants was not a way to avoid work. If they had been found guilty of approving too many applicants, not doing due diligence, it would have made sense to use that excuse. Instead they were dragging out the process.

  • PD Shaw

    @Dave, having . . . er . . . formally reviewed a number of agency reviewers in different programs, I am also familiar with some of the variations: (1) If staff expectations are to review 30 applications a week and they receive 60 one week, all 60 might be approved on Monday since there wasn’t enough time to do it right anyway; (2) If action on an application is due on the 90th day, the application might be returned on the 89th day for more information on item 3; when that is submitted, the application will be returned 89 days later for more information on item 4.

  • PD Shaw

    @Cstanley, you are correct of course, and I think the most obvious conclusion to draw here is that the manager or management team took on more work and responsibilities with the hope / expectation of receiving recognition for their additional work, perhaps with a promotion or an attaboy from the media.

    But the person reviewing the applications screened as raising political questions always held the key to this prison by approving the application. Since the Tea-Party applications appear to have been eventually approved (unless withdrawn), I wonder what conclusion we can draw from that? Were the applications sound from the beginning, did the reviewer give up, or did the reviewer fear additional scrutiny if the applications were approved?

  • Cstanley

    PD – my understanding is that a large number of the flagged applications are still in limbo. That hints of a strategy of stalling in lieu of actually rejecting (presumably the latter would require sound reasoning while the former can always be chalked up to needing more information….but still prevents the group from moving forward.

  • jan

    my understanding is that a large number of the flagged applications are still in limbo. That hints of a strategy of stalling in lieu of actually rejecting (presumably the latter would require sound reasoning while the former can always be chalked up to needing more information….but still prevents the group from moving forward.

    Yes, there are still a number of applications in limbo, including one of the major teaparty organizations as well as one of Karl Rove’s — Crossroads GPS, or some name like that. And, yes this is deliberately intended to prevent the group from moving forward. However, in the case of that teaparty group, they are acting as if they were approved and going forward anyway — preparing a law suit against the IRS, in the wings, as a counter offensive.

  • PD Shaw

    @Jan, one of the odd things about all of this is that a 501(c)(4) does not need its application approved to be a “social welfare organization.” (This is mentioned in the Inspector General’s report)

    As far as I can tell, the application process is supposed to help make subsequent annual returns easier to process by getting the organization into the system. And it provides the organization some certainty of its tax exempt status, on the condition that the organization acts in accordance with its stated intentions in the application.

  • jan

    PD, I find that not only odd but confusing, that there is no need for approval to be considered a social welfare organization.

  • Steve

    Never blame on malice what can be explained by laziness or incompetence. For govt work i usually suspect laziness.

    2) The whole 501 thing seems like a disaster in waiting. You designate some level workers to determine what is and is not a political organization. How do they do that? I am thinking that if i am a civil servant the way to go is ask lots of questions, but approve everything. That way you dont grt angry calls, you hope, from taxpayers , and can show your bosses you tried, lots of questions, if they want to know why you srent turning some down.

    Steve

  • PD Shaw

    steve, a lot of people are operating under the assumption that all policies can addressed through preliminary licensing. Can you prevent murder by asking enough questions before issuing a FOID card? 501(c)(4)s are not precluded from being political, just from being too political, which is almost certainly impossible to assess at the formation stage of a new organization.

    When Senator Levin recently asked the IRS similar questions to what you are asking, the IRS responded by pointing out the information available from the annual returns, i.e. after the 501(c)(4) organization was running and had actual expenses.

  • dahozho

    In order to do that, we MUST de-unionize the Federal bureaucracy. We must also provide for Federal employee protections from managers who don’t like it when employees point out the manager is pursuing actions which are not allowed or compromise the functioning of their office.

    Get politics out of the Federal offices (Hatch Act enforcement), and we’ll be on a better track.

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