House GOP seeks answers on status of IRS's Lerner

House Republicans are pressing the IRS for answers on what’s happened to Lois Lerner and other IRS staffers placed on administrative leave during the targeting controversy.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are seeking information on whether Lerner and Holly Paz, two of the staffers at the center of the storm, remain on administrative leave, and if they have access to IRS facilities or email. Both staffers are thought to still be on leave.

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The two chairmen, in a Wednesday letter, are also asking whether Joseph Grant, Lerner’s onetime boss and an early casualty in the controversy, was asked to resign — and if so, by who and on what grounds. Finally, they ask whether the IRS has been successful in canceling some $70 million in bonuses, as the agency’s acting leader, Danny Werfel, has said he was trying to do.

“Several of these developments have taken place with little or no information provided to Congress,” Camp and Issa wrote to Werfel.

The letter comes as Democrats are continuing to question the report that outlined the targeting of conservative groups. They say the IRS unfairly scrutinized liberal groups as well. 

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, also said Wednesday that President Obama’s speech on the economy was a chance to move the conversation in Washington away from “phony scandals.”

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“The president will not tolerate poor performance or inappropriate activity at any agency, and when he finds out about it, he acts on it. But he's focused on the economy,” Carney said on MSNBC. “He's not focused on, you know, pretend scandals.”

Lerner was placed on administrative leave in May, a day after she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination before Issa’s committee and less than two weeks after she disclosed and apologized for the targeting of conservative groups. The onetime head of an IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, Lerner declined Werfel’s request that she resign before being placed on administrative leave, and was to receive pay while on leave.

The IRS also announced a replacement for Paz as director of rulings and agreements for exempt organizations, without providing details on what happened to Paz.

Camp and Issa note that, under federal law, staffers like Paz and Lerner can be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their actions. The two chairmen ask Werfel the status of any such investigation and question whether Paz and Lerner are on administrative leave — and if so, how long they’ll have that status and at what cost to the agency.

Grant, meanwhile, announced less than a week after the targeting controversy broke that he would resign in June. That announcement came a day after Steven Miller, then the acting commissioner of the IRS, resigned at Obama’s request.

Werfel said this month that he was trying to cancel bonuses for union staffers, but the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) has said that the agency is legally bound to pay out awards for work starting in 2012.

With that in mind, Camp and Issa ask how much in bonuses the IRS has handed out since the start of 2010, and how much Grant, Lerner, Miller and Paz received in bonuses in that time span.

The new effort from Camp and Issa comes the same day that the Oversight panel is considering three IRS-related bills unveiled by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) this month and which are expected to get full House votes next week. 

Those measures would allow federal officials to be put on leave without pay if they are under investigation for abuses, let taxpayers record discussions they have with federal enforcement officials and seek to improve customer service efforts at federal agencies.