Obama Says He Won’t 'Tolerate' Wrongdoing at IRS

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This story has been updated. 

President Obama on Monday vowed to hold accountable Internal Revenue Service employees involved with improperly targeting conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

The president said during a briefing with reporters that if IRS personnel intentionally singled out certain political groups for special scrutiny “then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.” Obama cited the ongoing inspector general investigation expected to be released this week, and would not comment “prematurely” on the audit’s findings. Still, he made it clear there would be repercussions for any wrongdoing. “So, we’ll wait and see exactly what all the details and facts are,” he said. “But I’ve got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and I will make sure we find out exactly what happened on this.” The president’s remarks came during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The IRS on Friday apologized for targeting groups with words like “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their names during a briefing with Lois Lerner, director of the agency’s exempt organizations division, and reporters. The agency said they admitted the improper scrutiny because Lerner was asked about it during another event, but there are questions over whether the IRS timed Friday’s revelation to get out in front of the IG report.

In a statement Saturday, the IRS said that agency senior leaders did not know about the situation in “this level of detail” earlier. 

The agency only has two political appointees -- the commissioner and the chief counsel -- and so far, officials have indicated “low-level” employees were involved in singling out certain groups improperly.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS employees, did not have much to say about the matter on Monday. “NTEU is working to get the facts but does not have any specifics at this time,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement. “Moreover, IRS employees are not permitted to discuss taxpayer cases.”

Lerner apparently knew about the special scrutiny in June 2011, according to a report in The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the IG audit. After conservative groups complained about being singled out, then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the agency was not intentionally targeting such groups. Shulman, who was appointed in March 2008 by former President George W. Bush, left the agency in November 2012 when his term expired.

Steven T. Miller, who is deputy commissioner of services and enforcement, is now acting commissioner.

Republicans are apoplectic over the IRS’ admission that it targeted conservative groups and are calling for investigations, and in some cases, resignations. “It is clear the IRS cannot operate with even a shred of the American people’s confidence under the current leadership,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a May 13 letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, urging him and Obama to demand the resignation of the commissioner, or in this case, acting commissioner.

Obama during Monday’s press conference said the IRS as an independent agency “requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a nonpartisan way,” adding that everyone should share that sentiment, regardless of political party. “Either way you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate, so I think this is something that people are properly concerned about,” said the president.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.