IRS “Low Level Employees” Push Back

The IRS scandal was launched on May 10 by Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, as she spoke to a meeting of the American Bar Association.  In her answer to an audience question that she had planted, she said that “our line people in Cincinnati,” had demanded answers to invasive, offensive questions and had caused delays of several years in the processing of applications for tax exempt status from targeted, Conservative groups

It turned out that Ms. Lerner was trying to “get ahead of” a Inspector General audit of the targeting matter that was about to be published.  We summarized his findings here.

So far, the official White House position has not differed from Ms. Lerner’s, that “line people in Cincinnati” spontaneously began targeting Conservative groups for harassment without permission or direction from anyone higher up the IRS or Administration chain of command.

Last week the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee published excerpts of interviews committee staff had conducted of some of those line people in Cincinnati.  It appears they are not willing to accept the role of designated scape goat for the persecution of innocent citizens or for a mushrooming Washington scandal.

In the following excerpts from a transcribed interview One Cincinnati IRS employee rejects the White House assertion and points to Washington as being responsible for the targeting project:

Q: In early 2010, was there a time when you became aware of applications that referenced Tea Party or other conservative groups?
A: In March of 2010, I was made aware.

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Q: Okay.  Now, was there a point around this time period when [your supervisor] asked you to do a search for similar applications? 
A: Yes.
Q: To the best of your recollection, when was this request made?
A: Sometime in early March of 2010.

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Q: Did [your supervisor] give you any indication of the need for the search, any more context? 
A: He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.

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Q: So as of April 2010, these 40 cases were held at that moment in your group; is that right?
A: Some were.
Q:  How many were held there?
A: Less than 40.  Some went to Washington, D.C.
Q: Okay.  How many went to Washington, D.C.?
A: I sent seven.

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Q: So you prepared seven hard copy versions of the applications to go to Washington, D.C.?
A:  Correct.

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Q: Did he give you any sort of indication as to why he requested you to do that?

[…]
A: He said Washington, D.C. wanted seven.  Because at one point I believe I heard they were thinking 10, but it came down to seven.  I said okay, seven.
Q: How did you decide which seven were sent? 
A: Just the first seven.
Q: The first seven to come into the system?
A: Yes.

*****

Q: Did anyone else ever make a request that you send any cases to Washington?
A:  [Different IRS employee] wanted to have two cases that she couldn’t ?? Washington, D.C. wanted them, but she couldn’t find the paper.  So she requested me, through an email, to find these cases for her and to send them to Washington, D.C.
Q: When was this, what time frame?
A: I don’t recall the time frame, maybe May of 2010.

******

Q: But just to be clear, she told you the specific names of these applicants. 
A: Yes.
Q: And she told you that Washington, D.C. had requested these two specific applications be sent to D.C. 
A: Yes, or parts of them. 

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Q: Okay.  So she asked you to send particular parts of these applications. 
A: Mm-hmm.
Q: And that was unusual.  Did you say that? 
A: Yes.
Q: And she indicated that Washington had requested these specific parts of these specific applications; is that right?
A: Correct. 

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Q: So what do you think about this, that allegation has been made, I think as you have seen in lots of press reports, that there were two rogue agents in Cincinnati that are sort of responsible for all of the issues that we have been talking about today.  What do you think about those allegations?
[…]
A:  It’s impossible.  As an agent we are controlled by many, many people.  We have to submit many, many reports.  So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.

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Q: And you’ve heard, I’m sure, news reports about individuals here in Washington saying this is a problem that was originated in and contained in the Cincinnati office, and that it was the Cincinnati office that was at fault.  What is your reaction to those types of stories?
[…]
A: Well, it’s hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low-level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.  So, take it for what it is.  They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.

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Q: So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG are not in the Cincinnati office?
A: I don’t know how to answer that question.  I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong.  We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.
Q: And you ultimately followed directions from Washington; is that correct?
A: If direction had come down from Washington, yes.
Q: But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington; is that right?
A: I believe so.

The following excerpts are from an interview of another more senior IRS Cincinnati employee who complained about micromanagement from D.C. and who applied for a transfer to a different job so he would not become a designated scape goat.

Q: But you specifically recall that the BOLO terms included “Tea Party?” 
A: Yes, I do. 
Q: And it was your understanding — was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Tea Party groups? 
A: That is correct. 
Q: Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify conservative groups? 
A: Yes, it was. 
Q: Was it your understanding that the purpose of the BOLO was to identify Republican groups? 
A: Yes, it was. 

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Q: Earlier I believe you informed us that the primary reason for [you] applying for another job in July [2010] was because of the micromanagement from [Washington, DC, IRS Attorney], is that correct? 
A: Right.  It was the whole Tea Party.  It was the whole picture.  I mean, it was the micromanagement.  The fact that the subject area was extremely sensitive and it was something that I didn’t want to be associated with. 
Q: Why didn’t you want to be associated with it? 
A: For what happened now.  I mean, rogue agent?  Even though I was taking all my direction from EO Technical [Washington, D.C], I didn’t want my name in the paper for being this rogue agent for a project I had no control over. 
Q: Did you think there was something inappropriate about what was happening in 2010? 
A: Yes.  The inappropriateness was not processing these applications fairly and timely. 

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Q: You have stated you had concerns with the fairness and the timeliness of the application process.  Did you have concerns with just the fact that these cases were grouped together and you were the only one handling them? 
A: I was the only one handling the Tea Party’s, that is correct. 
Q: Did that specifically cause you concern? 
A: Yes, it did.  And I was the only person handling them. 
Q:  Were you concerned that you didn’t have the capacity to process all of the applications in a timely manner? 
A: That is correct.  And it is just — I mean, like you brought up, the micromanagement, the fact that the topic was just weirdly handled was a huge concern to me.

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