IRS Tea Party Scandal: White House Didn’t Drive Investigation, Inspector General Says

The IRS Inspector General told reporters Tuesday that incompetence was behind the tax agency’s heavy scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the lead-up to the last year’s elections.

The IRS Inspector General explains that incompetence lead to the tax agency’s heavy scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the lead-up to the elections 2012. Photo: The White House/Flickr

A 48-page IG report stated that the IRS behavior was “not politically biased,” that it was caused by work of low-qualified staff who did not understand their jobs and sometimes acted insubordinately, and that it was not driven by authorities.

The findings surface a few days after the IRS was reported to having singled out groups with words like “Tea Party” in their names – a politically explosive revelation that raised concerns over government discrimination against political opponents.

A few IRS officials told the IG that the scrutiny of such groups was “not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS.” Rather than a scandal, the IG said, the Tea Party probes had merely given “the appearance that the IRS is not impartial in conducting its mission.”

The IG did have two outstanding issues of disagreement with the agency’s top brass over how to ensure that such abuse does not happen again, and said the IRS has not yet fully resolved the issue, despite assurances from officials , The Huffington Post informs.

“Although the IRS has taken some action, it will need to do more so that the public has reasonable assurance that applications are processed without unreasonable delay in a fair and impartial manner in the future,” said the report.

The final report obtained by IG did point to “ineffective management” that allowed the mistakes. It also advised to pay attention to the work of Lois G. Lerner, who headed the agency’s office of Exempt Organizations, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division.

“Lerner was the first IRS official to bring the agency’s misbehavior to public attention with comments at a professional conference last Friday that were quickly picked up by news media outlets,” The Huffington Post reports.

“Lerner was given a summary of the agency’s Tea Party investigation in April 2010 and after she was briefed of the improper probes in June 2011, she instructed middle managers to stop focusing on Tea Party groups.”

But those subordinates – who are not listed in the IG report – were able to flout her instructions and to rewrite the “be-on-the-lookout” criteria to reinsert terms that encompassed some Tea Party-type organizations.

“The team of specialists subsequently changed the criteria in January 2012 without executive approval because they believed the July 2011 criteria were too broad,” the report said.

An IRS spokesman said in a statement that “there was no intent to hide this issue, but rather we waited until [the IG’s office] completed their fact finding, made recommendations, and we reviewed their findings.”

Republicans were not satisfied with the IG report promising to continue raising questions considering the agency’s actions at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday.

“We still do not know why the targeting began, how extensive it was, who initiated it and who knew about it,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the report “raises more questions than it answers.”

“Today’s report magnifies our concerns about the breadth and depth of the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of organizations for their political beliefs,” he said.

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