At Cincinnati IRS office, surprise over claims of partisan villainy


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At Cincinnati IRS office, surprise over claims of partisan villainy
By Lisa Rein and Dan Zak


Published: May 17

People in this Cincinnati unit have been accused of using “inappropriate” and “politically sensitive” criteria to scrutinize conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

People in the unit, in a purple state’s red-leaning nook, have singled out applicants whose names include the words “tea party” and “patriot.”

People in Cincinnati have made people in Washington hopping mad.

As could be expected, the folks in the determinations unit on Main Street have had trouble concentrating this week. Number crunchers, whose work is nonpolitical, don’t necessarily enjoy the spotlight, especially when the media and the public assume they’re engaged in partisan villainy.

“We’re not political,’’ said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. “We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do. . . . That’s why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.”

The staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said that the determinations unit is competent and without bias, that it grouped together conservative applications “for consistency’s sake” — so one application did not sail through while a similar one was held up in review. This consistency is paramount in the review of all applications, according to Ronald Ran, an estate-tax lawyer who worked for 37 years in the IRS’s Cincinnati office.

I have no problem believing these folks were “just following orders”. My partisan feelings aside, that kind of initiative isn’t consistent with the low-level bureaucratic animal. What I do have trouble believing is that these people did not understand the partisan effect of the selection criteria. Just not credible. They’re being made scapegoats, but they knew what they were doing.