"Unfortunately, while I'm aware this is an initial report, it fails to deliver the accountability the American people deserve," House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in his opening remarks at a hearing on the report looking into the Cincinnati IRS office's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
"This report doesn't answer even the most basic significant questions. Who started this practice? Why has it been allowed to continue for so long? How widespread was it? In fact, this report suggests that you haven't even asked anyone those questions," Camp said.
Camp said additional IRS documents made available this week revealed the term "progressive," along with others, were also included on the be-on-the-lookout list, or the BOLO.
However, he said, "So far, the evidence only shows conservatives being systematically targeted by the IRS, not just flagged through the BOLO, but actually targeted."
"No taxpayer, regardless of political affiliation, should be unfairly targeted. It's wrong and this committee is working to ensure that it will never happen again," Camp said.
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the committee's ranking Democrat, urged Werfel to respond "very actively and vigorously to all the questions" asked Thursday.
"I think we need to get the facts, and not innuendoes," Levin said. "We are here today to learn about the corrective action that the IRS has taken to address mismanagement in processing of tax-exempt applications."
Levin said the backdrop of Thursday's hearing was the "troubling" new information that has come to light about the report issued by the Treasury inspector general of tax administration.
"This week we learned for the first time the three key items," Levin said, enumerating:
-- The screening list used by the IRS included the term "progressives."
-- Progressive groups were among the 298 applications the IG reviewed.
-- The inspector general did not research how the term "progressives" was added to the screening list nor how those cases were handled by different specialists in the IRS.
"The failure of the IG's audit to acknowledge these facts is a fundamental flaw in the foundation of the investigation and the public's perception of this issue," Levin said.
In his opening statement, Werfel said fact-gathering was ongoing but so far, "we have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by anyone at the IRS or involvement in these matters by anyone outside of the IRS."
"Furthermore, there is no current evidence of the use of inappropriate screeners or other types of criteria in other IRS operations beyond those discussed in the IG report."
He said agency leaders recognize the public's concern about criteria used for applications for tax-exempt status and more needs to be done to evaluate our screening criteria and procedures.
"We will, therefore, establish a review process by which screening criteria and procedures across the IRS will be periodically assessed to safeguard against any risks of inappropriate criteria," he said, noting the BOLO system was ended.
During questioning, Werfel was interrupted by Republican questioners who talked over him as he was responding. Several Democrats used their time to allow him to give fuller responses.
Werfel also took exception over the wording of some questions, saying the language was inaccurate.
Levin threw down the gauntlet, saying Democrats have condemned the IRS for singling out the Tea Party by name.
"I hope our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle will now join us in condemning the use of the term 'progressives' on the screening list and the failure of the IG to be forthcoming with this and other congressional committees," he said.
Camp, along with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, quizzed Werfel about his recommendation that Congress agree to the agency's budget request of an additional $1 billion, after it was revealed the agency spent millions of dollars on events.
"Mr. Werfel, let me be clear, until the IRS proves that it can responsibly manage its current funds, the IRS will not see one more dime in taxpayer funding," Camp said.
When questioned by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., Werfel said he would put the labeling into three categories.
"There's [ones] that are clearly on the conservative end of the spectrum, some that are clearly on the liberal end of the spectrum," Werfel said. "And then there's a set of groups where it's difficult to determine on the facts where they would land on that spectrum. And maybe they don't land anywhere on that."
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