IRS Acting Director Appears Before House Panel

Jun 4, 2013
Originally published on June 4, 2013 7:10 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Today on Capitol Hill, Congress turns its attention to two federal institutions that have been losing the confidence of the American people. In a minute, we'll hear about an effort in the Senate to crack down on sexual abuse in the U.S. military.

MONTAGNE: First, the House is moving through a series of hearings on an agency that's never been America's favorite, but whose popularity seems to be nearing a new low, and that's the IRS.

WERTHEIMER: This morning, the House Ways and Means Committee hears from conservative groups that say they were improperly targeted by the agency.

MONTAGNE: Then, this Thursday, another hearing will look into excessive spending by the Internal Revenue Service.

WERTHEIMER: And yesterday, the agency's new acting director appeared before Congress for the first time since taking the job.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Danny Werfel is a long-time public servant who now has possibly the worst, or at least one of the hardest jobs in Washington. Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the IRS, welcomed him to yesterday's hearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HEARING)

KEITH: Difficult may be an understatement. The inspector general for the IRS will release a report today, detailing nearly $50 million spent over three years on conferences for IRS employees - complete with silly videos produced at taxpayer expense, including this one, with a Star Trek theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF IRS VIDEO)

KEITH: And that's just the icing. The real scandal, the reason Werfel is now on the job, is the way the IRS handled applications for tax-exempt status. Some conservative groups were flagged for extra scrutiny, and some have been waiting years for a decision. This is something Werfel addressed head on in his opening statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HEARING)

KEITH: Werfel detailed what he's doing to try and make it right. There's a new management team in place, and by the end of this week, he's asked them to come up with a plan to resolve the outstanding applications for tax exempt status. And he's still working to figure out exactly what went wrong and why.

Chairman Crenshaw, a Florida Republican, cut right to why it matters with his first question.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HEARING)

KEITH: Part of that, he said, will be getting all the facts out, and holding those who are responsible accountable. But who is to blame? That was a question Werfel wasn't prepared to answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HEARING)

KEITH: The inspector general for the IRS, J. Russell George, also appeared before the committee. It was his fourth appearance since releasing his audit that revealed conservative groups had been improperly singled out. He was asked whether anyone questioned the IRS employees involved in the reviews about who ordered them to look at these groups in particular.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS HEARING)

KEITH: In what is becoming a bit of a pattern for these hearings, Democrats tried to focus on larger issues in the tax law around 501(c)(4), so-called social welfare groups that engage in politics. And some Republicans tried to make it a story about the Obama administration targeting its enemies through the IRS.

There are now at least four ongoing investigations into the troubles at the IRS, and just this week, two more congressional hearings.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.