In this post the role of Theo will be played by the GOP.
As most of you have no doubt heard, the IRS has admitted targeting right-leaning organizations applying for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code for extra-scrutiny. There will be an official Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report on this released this week (a portion of which was leaked by some, um, helpful congressional aide either Friday or over the weekend).
I have no dealings with the IRS's Exempt Organizations (EO) division, and thus no inside information on what may have gone on, but based on what I can piece together what went on was that the IRS EO staff charged with approving tax-exempt applications was overwhelmed in 2010 by the number of applications, in part due to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. They were looking for shortcuts to determine which applications might deserve extra scrutiny to ensure the applying organizations were not going to engage in impermissible political activities, and they chose a very very poor shortcut by referencing "tea party" and the like.
This went on for about 15 months. However, if you look at the timeline in the second link above, you'll see a reference to a meeting with the Director of the EO division in June 2011 - that is, "management" - who when she found out about this "instructed that the criteria be immediately revised." This was done in one week, after which the guidelines for picking out applications for review no longer had any "right wing" tint to them, it seems to me, at least, although likely still problematic for other reasons.
Josh Marshall sums up:
There are really three things that seem worth immediately investigating. First, is it clear that the decision bubbled up from below rather than being ordered from above? Second, was the decision to target in this way just really bad judgment or was it driven by partisan decision-making on the part of these low-level employees in Cincinnati? Third, if it really was just bad judgment, is there something broader about the organizational culture that would breed that kind of misjudgment?
On one, if this were "ordered from above," I'd be utterly and completely stunned, depending on what "above" means. For example, if this came from the White House to Commissioner Shulman who then got the EO division on board, that would mean Shulman was not only willing to go through with it, but lie before Congress, jeopardizing his future career, and he's just too much of a nerd to do that (not that that would be the first time someone did so).
On two, it certainly could have been partisan decisionmaking, but more likely bad judgment. Even if the former, that still gets to his number three. And, well, I doubt the IRS breeds misjudgment any worse than an organization of similar size. But when you have more than 100,000 employees, what the people at the top want doesn't always trickle down to the bottom. I have been in numerous meetings with top level officials where taxpayers complain about the behavior of IRS line employees and the response is always "that's not the IRS's policy, if there is a problem, elevate it. In fact, give me a call if you need to." They are sincere.
Here is the WaPo story on the director of the IRS EO Division (Lois Lerner), which says, among other things, In interviews Monday, even Lerner’s critics said she had done her job without showing a political bent. So, again, I'm not sure there's anything here other than some dumb decisionmaking by lower level employees that, when the people higher up found out about it, it was immediately changed.
Not to say that it was okay, or there shouldn't be any discipline/firings, but to compare this to Nixon (I'm looking at you, serious guy George Will), is, at a bare minimum, premature. The ultimate solution would be to adequately fund the IRS so that all applications receive the same amount of scrutiny and thus little judgement is left to the Executive, but alas.
Post Script: Of course, as I write this post and then look at the news, the WaPo has another article that calls into question alot of what I wrote above. I guess we'll see what the TIGTA report says and what comes out of the congressional hearings (the first of which is Friday).
*I love Alan Rickman.
Update on 5.14.2013 at 2:35pm EDT: I put a bunch of links to additional stories in comments but, wow. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference on Tuesday that he had ordered an investigation into the IRS scandal.... That's just unbelievable. Of course, maybe it's double-secret bankshot chess to give acting IRS Commissioner Miller a reason to invoke the 5th Amendment so he doesn't have to testify on Friday, thus protecting the administration.
Update the Second: Here is the TIGTA report. I have not read it yet.
Update in Round: And the Acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue resigns. What a disaster.