IRS Investigations Have Proved Toothless Tigers

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 12:35 PM

By John Gizzi

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Congressional hearings last week into alleged abuses by the Internal Revenue Service sounded familiar, and that's because similar hearings have been held for at least the last 60 years.

The Ways and Means Committee hearings began with a bang. One by one, committee members took shots at major IRS figures over who was responsible for probes into conservative organizations that opposed President Barack Obama's agenda.

But history says that it is unlikely that the hearings will produce lasting reforms of the tax agency.

As far back as April 1934, the Senate Civil Service Committee held spirited hearings over "alleged political favoritism" in appointments to the IRS.

One of the appointments highlighted was that of D.D. Moore to be the Internal Collector of Revenue for Louisiana. The hearings grew spirited because Democratic Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana used Moore's nomination as a point of counterattack against the IRS.

Earlier that year, Long charged on the floor of the Senate that "hordes" of agents, 250 at least, were on his trail and that of his friends.

"They did not try to put any covering over this thing," Long said. The agents boasted that he and his friends "were all going away."

According to the Congressional Research Service, no less than 25 such major congressional hearings concerning the IRS have been held in the House and Senate over the last 62 years. The charges of whether America's tax collection agency has been corrupted, and whether it has exceeded its authority in dealing with the taxpayer, all have been investigated by lawmakers for generations.

From September 1951 until March 1952, the House Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Administration of the Internal Revenue Laws held four major hearings on embezzlement charges by IRS employees. One of the hearings was held in New York and another in San Francisco, with the focus on employees in local IRS offices.

Democratic Sen. Edward Long, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure, and the subcommittee's chief counsel, Bernard Fensterwald Jr., held much-publicized hearings in the mid-1960s on wiretaps and bugging devices that were used improperly by federal agencies, including the IRS.

In 1975-1976, the House Committee on Government Operations -- forerunner to the present Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- probed the administration of the IRS. Hearings on controversies ranged from "IRS relations with the General Accounting Office and possible misuse of IRS manpower" to "IRS intelligence and inspections operations."

Under Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois Democrat, the Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s held a series of hearings on the issue of taxpayer privacy. In April 1982, the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight reviewed "IRS collection procedures and policies in context of taxpayer civil liberties."

Have these hearings produced legislation to remedy complaints about the IRS and the charges it oversteps and abuses authority? To a degree, yes. By focusing on the abuse of individual taxpayers by the IRS, greater barriers of protection for taxpayers under fire have been enacted into the U.S. Tax Code.

But to say that the problems were remedied to a large degree is untrue. Were that the case, there would not be the charges against today's IRS and the hearings we are now watching would not be necessary.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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