By Ken Berry
Does it seem that the IRS scandal targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny has been going for . . . well, forever? Certain Republican leaders in Congress think the IRS is prolonging the agony by holding back information that's been requested. In a strongly worded message delivered to Principal Deputy Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement Daniel Werfel – who stepped in for Acting Commissioner Steven Miller after the scandal went public – the Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform urged the IRS to pick up the pace.
"Although the IRS has identified over 64 million pages of documents as responsive to congressional oversight requests, the agency has produced to the Committee only a total of about 12,000 pages, or a mere 0.019 percent of all responsive documents," the letter stated. It was delivered to Werfel July 30.
The committee intends to get to the bottom of the mess that first surfaced in May – it only seems like a lifetime ago to jaded observers. At the time, it was revealed the IRS had illegally targeted tea party and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. According to a new report from the House Committee on Ways and Means, the groups were subjected to more intrusive questioning by agents than progressive groups, while scores of applications were allegedly put on hold or delayed. Fingers are being pointed at IRS officials higher up the ladder, but thus far, no proof of their wrongdoing has emerged.
According to the letter, the IRS has failed to deliver the documentation the oversight committee needs to unravel the truth. It claims that some of the pages received are heavily redacted, other documents contain duplications, and still others are omitted completely because the IRS chief counsel's office claims they're "private" and therefore confidential. "It is unknown what IRS reviewers consider 'private,' but more importantly, there is no valid basis to deny the Committee access to 'private' documents – regardless of what such an amorphous term may mean in the eyes of an IRS reviewer," said the letter.
These latest accusations leveled against the IRS coincide with the report released by House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) alleging that conservative groups were less than half as likely to obtain approval from the IRS as progressive groups. As with the oversight committee, Camp's committee is waiting for the IRS to produce additional information. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have received less than 3 percent of the documents responsive to the investigation," he said.
IRS officials could receive a slap on the wrist for the delays. At worst, charges of obstruction of justice may be raised.
The IRS refutes claims that it's trying to stall the process. IRS spokesperson Michelle Eldridge says the agency is doing its best to comply with the flood of requests from Congress and has tapped seventy attorneys to review and process the documents. "We have been in contact with committee staff, and we continue to provide them updates as we diligently work through these requests," commented Eldridge.