Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has introduced H. Res. 737, which would condemn and censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Efforts to impeach or censure the Commissioner are the latest skirmish between Congress and the embattled IRS stemming from the IRS’s use of “Be On the Lookout” (BOLO) lists to screen for excessive political activity by applicants for tax-exempt status under Code section 501(c)(4). The American College of Tax Counsel (ACTC) has sent several House leaders a compelling letter expressing its “view that such actions are not commensurate with the alleged conduct” and its justifiable concern that resolutions to impeach and censure Commissioner Koskinen “will damage the agency at a time when it needs strong leadership.”
Readers may recall that Steve Miller was Acting Commissioner when the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released its report on the BOLO issue, entitled “Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review” in May 2013. Miller resigned shortly after that, because President Obama asked Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew to request Miller’s resignation. Daniel Werfel then became Acting Commissioner for about seven months. Mr. Koskinen did not become IRS Commissioner until Dec. 23, 2013. This was a challenging time to take on that role, given the state of the IRS’s relationship with Congress. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held particularly partisan, contentious hearings.
As I have written previously, Lois Lerner, the former Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, became the face of the controversy. After being put on paid administrative leave, she retired in September 2013. FBI and DOJ investigations of the 501(c)(4) issue found evidence of IRS mismanagement but no criminal activity. In a March 2015 follow-up report, TIGTA found that the IRS was no longer using BOLO lists.
The censure and impeachment efforts relate to government attempts to obtain Lois Lerner’s emails. Production of these emails was a major challenge for the IRS, for many reasons, as detailed in an enclosure accompanying a June 2014 letter from IRS employee Leonard Oursler to the Senate Committee on Finance. Among them was the fact that Ms. Lerner’s computer’s hard drive had crashed in June 2011. In written testimony before the House Oversight Committee in March 2014, Commissioner Koskinen stated that “More than 250 IRS employees have spent nearly 100,000 hours working directly on complying with the investigations, at a cost of nearly $8 million. In order to properly protect taxpayer information while efficiently processing voluminous materials for production, we had to add capacity to our information technology systems and, therefore, spent an additional $6 million to $8 million to optimize existing systems and ensure a stable infrastructure.” In June 2015, TIGTA reported that “[n]o evidence was uncovered that any IRS employees had been directed to destroy or hide information from Congress, the DOJ, or TIGTA”, although it also found “that the IRS did not put forth an effort to uncover additional, responsive emails” (p.18 of TIGTA’s June 30, 2015 report). Bryan Camp discusses that issue in a post at Procedurally Taxing.
Others have observed that the attempt to impeach Commissioner Koskinen seems partisan and unjustified, as well as unprecedented. It is an unnecessary distraction for an agency struggling with inadequate resources. Moreover, attacks like this one will no doubt deter other talented individuals from being willing to serve in the top ranks of the IRS. The ACTC is right in requesting “Congress [to] reject impeachment and censure, and instead apply its time and attentions to improving both the tax law and the administration of our tax system.”