Steven Miller, who is being forced out as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said the agency has learned its lesson from the scandal involving selective scrutiny of tax-exempt groups.
“What happened here is that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient,” Miller said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.
The IRS scandal is the “latest example of a culture of cover-ups” at the agency and in the Obama administration, said Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Camp, a Michigan Republican, is leading a hearing that started at 9 a.m. on the selective scrutiny of small-government groups applying for tax-exempt status that has erupted into a scandal for the IRS. In his statement, Camp cited other accusations against the agency, including the release of confidential information about nonprofit groups.
Miller and Russell George, inspector general for the IRS, are the only two witnesses scheduled to testify.
“This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation or two,” Camp said. “And, as much as I expect more people need to go, the reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful.”
Today’s hearing is the first about an incident that has prompted four separate congressional inquires and a criminal probe.
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and a panel member, focused on Miller’s July 25, 2012, testimony to a Ways and Means subcommittee in which he didn’t explain how the grouping of organizations for further scrutiny was done.
“How can we not conclude that you misled this committee?” Ryan asked.
Miller said he answered the question truthfully.
“I did not mislead Congress or the American people,” Miller told the panel. “I answered questions as they were asked.”
Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, said he and other lawmakers are “angry” at the IRS for not being forthright. He is calling for the departure of Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt organizations.
Levin said Miller and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman should have informed lawmakers when they found out in May 2012 about the targeting of these groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Still, Levin said the Republican-led panel should seek the “truth” and not use the opportunity for “political gain.”
Less than an hour after the hearing started, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of House Republicans, blasted an e-mail and is running paid ads on Facebook Inc.’s social network site that target Democrats for accepting campaign donations from the National Treasury Employees Union. The Republicans are pointing at President Barack Obama, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a list of Democratic lawmakers, including James Clyburn of South Carolina and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, to return $700,000 in campaign contributions received from the organization.
Obama yesterday announced that he chose Danny Werfel, controller of the White House budget office, to replace Miller as acting IRS commissioner effective May 22. Miller is still the acting commissioner.
The inspector general’s May 14 report showed that IRS employees used terms such as “tea party” and “patriot” to select which applications would receive tougher questioning.
“The IRS leadership has demonstrated a total disregard for the oversight role of Congress and this committee,” he said.
George said the investigation raised “troubling” questions about whether the IRS has effective management oversight and control, “at least” when dealing with exempt organizations.
Four congressional committees are investigating the IRS. The Justice Department has begun a criminal probe that could ensnare senior officials for lying to Congress and lower-level workers for other potential offenses. Joseph Grant, who had been appointed to oversee tax-exempt groups and government entities on May 8, announced he would retire as of June 3.
House Speaker John Boehner yesterday cited a section of the tax code that provides criminal penalties of as much as five years in prison for people who commit “extortion or willful oppression under the color of law.”
The IRS inspector general, which already released one report May 14, will be recommending another investigation, Obama said yesterday. Karen Kraushaar, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said she was prohibited by law from confirming the existence of an investigation.
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