IRS Chief: Congressional Overseers May Have Gotten ‘A Little Carried Away’

Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill in July. Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen testifies on Capitol Hill in July. AP

Asked recently whether the Internal Revenue Service might be exonerated as the six running congressional investigations of potential political bias at the agency near an endpoint, Commissioner John Koskinen took a gentle jab at the level of energy lawmakers have devoted to the controversy over targeting of nonprofits.

In an Oct. 17 interview with the trade publisher Tax Analysts published Monday, Koskinen said, “it is important for the public to feel that… if there aren't indictments and the investigations are done, that actually it was not for naught, that the issue was an important one. We may have gotten a little carried away with all of the investigations around it, but it was important to highlight the issue and resolve it.”

The commissioner acknowledged management failures, such as delays in processing applications. “I have said all along that the use of improper criteria [for evaluating applications for tax exempt status from social welfare groups] was a mistake, and that we ought not to have it happen again,” he said.

But Koskinen also noted that the tax agency has implemented all nine recommendations made in the May 2013 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audit that triggered the political furor. And while he wouldn’t comment on individual employees of the Exempt Organizations division in Cincinnati and Washington, he said, “the chain of command is all gone, the senior people down through the leadership of EO have all been replaced.”

Koskinen told reporter William Hoffman that that he enjoys good relations with Congress and was "comfortable" with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., possibly the next leader of the Ways and Means Committee, even though Ryan announced at a June 20 hearing that he didn't believe Koskinen's explanation for the missing emails from former IRS official Lois Lerner. “The hearings have a certain set of purposes and focuses about them, but we're all going to work together going forward,” Koskinen said. “So that even when people are more personal in their attacks than might be normal, my sense is that . . . it comes with the territory."

The IRS chief promised that new proposed regulations on determining which groups qualify as social welfare groups and not primarily political ones—a draft released last November stirred resistance from the left and the right—should be ready early next year. “I hope out of this will come a sense on the part of the public,” he said, “that we really are committed, that you should feel, no matter who you are, that you're going to get treated fairly by the IRS, and you're going to get treated the same way everybody else is.”

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