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The Detroit News: IRS scandal a low point for President Obama

August 2, 2013
Opinion Editorial

The recent pattern of federal government abuse is very troubling, undermines citizens' trust in their government and we, the American people, deserve an explanation from President Barack Obama as to why his administration used its vast powers to commit these misdeeds.

The lack of preparedness in rescuing Americans under attack, and the administration's misdirection to investigators seeking the truth about the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi is disgraceful. The Department of Justice's broad phone-tapping of reporters is chilling and the slew of improprieties conducted by the IRS in targeting the president's political opponents leading up to his re-election is outrageous. As a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I am determined to make even the most powerful in Washington, D.C., accountable to the struggling family, small business owner, single mother, and farmer who those of us who are elected officials have the privilege to represent.

The actions at the IRS have come to the forefront as more information about the unnecessary and unacceptable level of political considerations at the agency has been revealed. In May, the American people learned about the unwarranted targeting and mistreatment of taxpayers by the IRS. As Congress fulfilled its constitutional obligation of overseeing the executive branch and brought more facts to light, the administration has shifted its story, repeatedly confused the facts and laid blame on mid-level IRS employees in Ohio. High-level IRS official Lois Lerner, who first revealed the targeting of the president's political opponents, is refusing to answer questions and is on administrative leave. Through interviews conducted by the committee and testimony from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the IRS Inspector General has confirmed the delays came from Washington.

When asked who bore responsibility for these deplorable acts, Ms. Lerner and the president's press secretary, Jay Carney, tried to put the blame on agents in Cincinnati, while others in Washington created the phantom notion of "rogue agents." However, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently had the opportunity to interview employees from that office who flatly disproved those claims. Elizabeth Hofacre, a 14-year veteran of the IRS and one of the accused "rogue" agents, told our panel her job was comparable to working in "lost luggage" because of delays Washington officials imposed on applications. Her testimony, along with that of colleague Carter Hull, confirmed senior officials within the Obama administration in Washington were involved in the evaluation and scrutiny of conservative organizations' applications.

Mr. Hull, who spent 48 years at the IRS, said he had enough facts to make recommendations on whether to approve or deny the applications. But instead, the head of his unit implemented a new and largely unprecedented multi-layer review. Mr. Hull said his cases were then reviewed by the office of an Obama Administration political appointee, the Chief Counsel's office — something he couldn't recall having encountered during his time at the agency and to which he claimed directly contributed to the substantial delay of processing conservative organizations' cases. The targeting was never a Cincinnati problem; it was and continues to be a Washington and Obama Administration problem.

But more than a problem, this turning of the IRS into a political weapon is an inexcusable act that must never be accepted or ignored. We will continue working to hold accountable those who wronged our democracy.

The IRS is an agency in disarray, from wasteful conference spending, to the illegal release of taxpayer information, to the targeting of the president's political opponents. This organization must be righted. More importantly, the culture in Washington, D.C., must be changed so no presidential administration, Republican or Democrat, will ever consider using the IRS in a political manner again. Until then, the American taxpayer cannot be certain their civil liberties are secure, and their hard-earned taxes are being properly put to use. In the House, we will continue to shed light on Washington's excess and I remain committed to demanding accountability, helping hardworking taxpayers and expanding opportunities for all Americans

U.S. Tim Rep. Walberg, R-Tipton, is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee which has been investigating IRS-related issues.

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