The IRS has agreed that it was “absolutely inappropriate” for its employees to target conservative groups it considered critical of the government, and those dedicated to educating Americans about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but can those IRS employees be fired for doing it?
Speaking at a May 10 American Bar Association conference, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS’ tax-exempt organization division, stated that from 2010 and 2012, unnamed low-level IRS “line people in Cincinnati” had improperly targeted about 75 nonprofit groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names for extra screening of their tax-exempt status.
“That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said. “The IRS would like to apologize for that.” (full transcript)
Lerner stressed that the responsible IRS agents did not act out of “political bias,” but were attempting to “streamline” the way in which they reviewed the cases.
While Lerner alluded to internal actions the IRS had taken to deal with the situation, she did not say whether any IRS employees had been disciplined or fired for their actions.
At a May 13 press conference, President Obama stated that if IRS personnel were found to be intentionally targeting conservative groups, “They have to be held fully accountable.”
But Does That Mean ‘Fired?’
Under the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, there are 10 prohibited actions for which an IRS employee not only might, but must be fired. The law clearly states that the commissioner of the IRS “shall terminate the employment of any employee” in the event of “a final administrative or judicial determination” of the prohibited action. These are:
1. Willful failure to obtain the required approval signatures on documents authorizing the seizure of a taxpayer’s home, personal belongings, or business assets.
2. Providing a false statement under oath with respect to a material matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.
3. Violating the constitutional or civil rights of any taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the IRS.
4. Falsifying or destroying documents to conceal mistakes made by any employee with respect to a matter involving a taxpayer or taxpayer representative.
5. Criminal conviction or civil judgment for assault or battery on a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the Internal Revenue Service.
6. Violations of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, Department of Treasury regulations, or policies of the Internal Revenue Service (including the Internal Revenue Manual) for the purpose of retaliating against, or harassing, a taxpayer, taxpayer representative, or other employee of the Internal Revenue Service.
7. Willful misuse of the provisions of section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry.
8. Willful failure to file any return of tax required under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 on or before the date prescribed therefor (including any extensions), unless such failure is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.
9. Willful understatement of Federal tax liability, unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.
10. Threatening to audit a taxpayer for the purpose of extracting personal gain or benefit.
Targeting individual taxpayers or organizations for special enforcement based on their political positions or message could violate provisions 3 and 6, thus requiring the termination of the IRS employees involved.
It is possible that no disciplinary action will be taken until the Treasury Department’s inspector general issues his final report on the conservative group targeting incident.
Also still unknown is the exact intent of the IRS and its employees in targeting these conservative groups. Was, for example, their intent to shut down or silence the targeted groups or simply to collect taxes owed? Or was it all, as Lois Lerner suggested, simply a misdirected attempt by the IRS to streamline its procedures?
Also See: IRS Abusing Use of Tax Liens