IRS Official: Workers Unfairly Blamed for Tea Party Targeting

Image: IRS Official: Workers Unfairly Blamed for Tea Party Targeting

Monday, 18 Nov 2013 07:06 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A former director of the Cincinnati IRS office reportedly sent a blistering email to Lois Lerner after the scandal-plagued Lerner blamed low-level workers in the Ohio city's office for the tax agency's targeting of tea party groups.

"Cincinnati wasn't publicly 'thrown under the bus' [but] instead was hit by a convoy of Mack trucks," Cindy Thomas railed in a May 10 email discovered by congressional investigators on the House Ways and Means Committee, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Monday.

Thomas, former head of the Internal Revenue Service's exempt organizations division in Cincinnati, fired off the email just hours after Lerner, then director of the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, publicly acknowledged the agency had subjected applications from tea-party groups to extra scrutiny during the 2012 election campaign.

At a May 10 American Bar Association conference, Lerner said "line people" in the Cincinnati office flagged applications based on certain terms, such as "tea party" and "patriot," the Enquirer reported, adding that Lerner told The Associated Press the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.

"They didn't have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others, and it was just wrong," Lerner said at the conference.

A few days later, The Enquirer pointed out, an Inspector General's report concluded that Cincinnati-based IRS workers developed and implemented "inappropriate criteria" — such as "tea party," "patriot," and "9/11" — as triggers that sent those applications into a long review process.

The Cincinnati office is charged with screening all tax-exempt applications submitted to the IRS.

"As you can imagine, employees and managers [in the Cincinnati tax-exempt division] are furious," she wrote to Lerner in a note in which "low-level" was underlined and boldfaced.

"Was it also communicated at that conference in Washington that the low-level workers in Cincinnati asked the Washington office for assistance and the Washington office took no action to provide guidance to the low-level workers?" Thomas wrote.

"How am I supposed to keep the low-level workers motivated when the public believes they are nothing more than low-level and now will have no respect for how they are working cases?" she wrote. "The attitude/morale of employees is at the lowest it has ever been."

Thomas wrote that the previous years inside the unit "has been miserable enough" because of the division's workload and lack of help with "strategic planning" from Washington.

"Now," she wrote, "our leader is publicly referring to employees who are the ones producing all of this work with fewer resources than ever as low-level workers!"

The email chain obtained by Gannett Washington Bureau doesn't show whether or how Lerner responded. Lerner's attorney, William W. Taylor III, did not respond to a voice mail seeking comment.

Thomas did forward the email to another manager in the Cincinnati unit, Jon Waddell. He offered a two-word response: "Well said."

Lerner has since resigned from the IRS. Thomas now serves as a senior technical adviser to Lerner's replacement as director of the IRS' exempt organizations unit.

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