IRS "Scandal" Continued

08.20.13

Who Inspects the Inspector?

More documents have been released showing that there's nothing to the IRS scandal. Yeah, yeah, I know; Washington has "moved on." But Washington has a strange definition of moving on, which is, if there's no longer a foul odor lingering in the air around what people very excitedly once thought was a scandal, they just mostly ignore it and write nothing.

I suppose you could call that moving on, but I think actual moving on involves settling accounts and setting things right. If there was no scandal, then why did everyone initially believe there was? And if the press got something wrong, isn't there a responsibility to go back and get it right?

The new documents released today by House Democrats show that more progressive groups were targeted in the IRS screenings along with conservative ones. A 2010 PowerPoint freshly unearthed lists "progressive" and "emerge" as words to watch out for. The emerge movement was and is a network of progressive state-based groups, and the groups from Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine were all denied c4 status in 2011.

Another slide presentation tells IRS staffers to be on the lookout for "Acorn successor" groups, meaning left-leaning outfits created in the wake of the demise of Acorn, which as you know stole the election in 2008 for the guy who won it by 9.5 million votes.

This case is by now settled. No partisan scandal here. But it seems to me that now another question deserves a hearing, and its own share of media attention: who inspects the inspector?

That is, to whom does Russell George, the Treasury inspector general who produced the original and deeply flawed and subjective report at Darrell Issa's request. How about someone investigate him? I don't wish to asperse the fellow, but he does have a background as a Republican staffer and operative

As it happens, there are guidelines inspectors general are supposed to follow. Here’s perhaps relevant passage:

The Inspector General (IG) and Office of Inspector General staff shall adhere to the highest ethical principles by conducting their work with integrity.

Integrity is the cornerstone of all ethical conduct, ensuring adherence to accepted codes of ethics and practice. Objectivity, independence, professional judgment, and confidentiality are all elements of integrity.

Objectivity imposes the obligation to be impartial, intellectually honest, and free of conflicts of interest. Independence is a critical element of objectivity. Without independence, both in fact and in appearance, objectivity is impaired.

Seems to me that this language makes for some reasonable questions that can be asked of Mr. George. There is, as of 2008, something called the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which oversees the work of IGs and is headed by a woman named Phyllis Fong. Phyllis, get to work!

And finally: remember that two IRS employees have suffered here. Former director Steve Miller flew like an eagle (sorry) out of his job shortly after the story broke, and Lois Lerner, who headed the nonprofit division, is on administrative leave. The right-wing press is still hounding her. Where do they go to get an apology?