This month marks the two-year anniversary of the nation learning that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – the nation’s supposedly nonpartisan tax collection agency – systematically harassed and targeted conservative political groups leading up to the 2012 elections. The scandal remains unresolved, and in the past several weeks, a handful of shocking new IRS scandals have emerged, making it clear that the tax collector still has huge problems – and it’s costing Americans billions of dollars.
Last month, more than 6,000 of Lois Lerner’s supposedly “missing” emails were discovered. Lerner was the IRS official at the center of the political targeting controversy, who in front of a Congressional committee repeatedly declared her innocence and then somehow invoked the Fifth Amendment when questioned – and then claimed her hard drive crashed and erased all of her emails, which obviously would have included the ones related to political targeting.
Lerner has since retired without criminal charges (but with full pension and benefits), because the investigating U.S. attorney let her off the hook on his last day on the job. But the same week her emails were discovered, it was revealed that the IRS is likely still targeting conservative groups.
To make matters worse, Americans for Prosperity’s Christine Harbin Hanson recently detailed that the IRS isn’t just pushing left-wing politics by targeting conservatives and re-writing tax law on behalf of Obamacare, but has also been unlawfully subsidizing the “green energy” industry against the will of Congress, at the expense of American taxpayers.
Perhaps the inability to focus on its core responsibilities is what resulted in the IRS sending the wrong tax forms to 800,000 Obamacare enrollees this year, and $5.6 billion in potentially bogus education tax credits going back to 2012. Because of the Obamacare gaffe, nearly a million people will have to wait longer to get their tax refunds this year. In regards to the 3.6 million people who received faulty education tax credits in 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for tax administration told Fox News, “The IRS still does not have effective processes to identify erroneous claims for education credits.”
Both of these costly errors should worry taxpayers, but perhaps not as much as the IRS’ treatment of tax cheaters within their own ranks. While the IRS harassed Americans for their beliefs and made countless processing mistakes, they took no action against tax evaders walking the halls of their very own offices.
Nearly 1,600 IRS employees didn’t pay their taxes over a decade, but more than half weren’t fired – many even received promotions less than a year after they were caught.
Officials within the IRS continually blame a lack of funding and resources for the incessant problems, a result of Congress slashing their funding after the political targeting controversy. The clear-thinking taxpayer who pays for the IRS would obviously retort that perhaps they should use the staff, time, and resources spent advancing a political agenda on actually doing the agency’s job correctly.
For example, they could more effectively use the 521,725 hours IRS employees spent last year doing union activities while on the job, which cost taxpayers $23.5 million.
Or they could actually enforce the law on tax cheaters, such as the ones in their own ranks or the several well-known MSNBC television hosts who are also not paying their “fair share.”
The list of things the IRS could improve upon is seemingly endless. And like basically every other problem in our bloated federal government, the root of the issue is not funding, it is priorities and accountability.
Clearly, the government’s tax enforcement bureaucracy – which can peer deep into the lives of any American it suspects of financial wrongdoing – has significant problems of its own. These problems are tilting the political playing field, favoring chosen corporations, and ultimately costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
When elected officials do wrong by the people who pay their salary, the people can vote them out. But that is not the case with the unaccountable unionized bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service. They can simply hide behind anonymity and protection from their allies like President Obama, who absurdly claimed “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS and has shown no interest in pursuing its recklessness.
Congress should take these latest reports seriously, and for the sake of the American taxpayer, do whatever it must to rid the IRS of its bad apples and systemic problems.
Chougule is the senior policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.