Since the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service related to granting tax-exempt status to certain organizations broke last May, the hundreds of hours of congressional hearings and agency document reproduction have cost the agency immeasurable prestige, person-hours and scarce funds.
But, as of Wednesday, there’s an actual price tag: $14 million.
That’s the figure released by Reps. Sander Levin of Michigan and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrats on the Ways and Means and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively.
A letter from Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen documents “the significant funds expended by the IRS in responding to congressional inquiries to date, including $8 million in direct costs—such as salaries, benefits, and travel—and an additional $6 million to $8 million to add capacity to information technology systems to process materials to investigators.”
In response to a Feb. 7 request from the lawmakers, Koskinen said a “conservative approach” tallies up 255 employees who’ve spent 97,542 hours to date, which does not factor in “ancillary support costs,” such as indirect work by the IRS offices of Legislative Affairs, Public Affairs, Human Capital, and the Executive Secretariat.
A half-million pages of documents have been turned over to Congress, and 35 former or current IRS employees have given interviews to Capitol Hill staff.
“After one of the most far-reaching investigations in recent history—spanning multiple House and Senate Committees that obtained hundreds of thousands of documents and interviewed dozens of officials—there is absolutely zero evidence of political motivation or White House involvement,” Levin and Cummings said in a statement. “Despite this fact, Republicans remain fixated on falsely accusing the White House of targeting its political enemies, wasting millions of dollars in an attempt to reignite their partisan inquiry before the November elections.”
Republicans, for their part, on Wednesday announced a hearing for March 5 that could get to the heart of what happened when the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division over the past several years began delaying and subjecting to extra scrutiny applications for tax-exempt benefits from mostly conservative nonprofit groups.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform panel, on Tuesday sent a letter to the attorney for Lois Lerner, the since-departed head of the Exempt Organizations division, recalling her to testify.
Lerner last May appeared before the panel but spoke only briefly to declare her innocence and then invoked her Fifth Amendment rights.
“Ms. Lerner’s testimony remains critical to the committee’s investigation,” Issa wrote. “Documents and testimony obtained by the committee show that she played a significant role in scrutinizing applications for tax exempt status from conservative organizations. Documents also show that Ms. Lerner participated in ‘off plan’ work to develop rules that would allow the IRS to stifle constitutionally-protected political speech by nonprofit groups. Ms. Lerner’s testimony will allow the committee to better understand how and why the IRS targeted certain organizations.”