It’s been less than three weeks since the IRS admitted to targeting applications for tax-exempt status filed by some conservative organizations. Much has happened since then on both the personnel front and with congressional oversight hearings.
On the personnel front, the acting IRS commissioner (Steven Miller) resigned and the President named a new acting commissioner. The IRS commissioner of tax exempt and government entities (Joseph Grant) announced his retirement effective June 3, and the director of exempt organizations (Lois Lerner) was placed on administrative leave.
In addition to personnel changes, three congressional hearings have been held. The House Ways and Means Committee was the first, held just seven days after the news broke. At this hearing, the then-acting IRS Commissioner admitted that “foolish mistakes were made,” in reviewing tax-exempt organizations for additional scrutiny, but denied that the process was partisan.
The acting Commissioner and two other IRS officials were before the Senate Finance Committee on May 21. The next day, the House Oversight Committee called as witnesses several current and former top IRS officials as well as the Treasury Secretary. This hearing drew much attention because of Ms. Lerner’s emphatic denial of wrongdoing and assertion of her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to the Committee’s questions. The hearing also drew attention because several committee members publicly scolded the Inspector General (IG) for failing to turn over information to Congress when problems were first discovered in May 2012.
These hearings revealed two pieces of important information: first, senior IRS officials knew as early June 2011 that certain groups were flagged for additional review based on certain keywords. Second, email exchanges between IRS officials revealed that they recognized that singling out such groups was problematic. Although the hearings have occurred in a short period of time and have revealed important information, we expect more hearings in the near future.
For more detailed analysis of the IRS fallout, click here to listen to a radio interview Jeff Tenenbaum, the chair of Venable’s non-profit practice group, did with the Inner Loop. More certainly to come.