His agency under relentless fire, the new head of the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged to Congress on Monday that American taxpayers no longer trust the IRS amid a growing number of scandals — from the targeting of conservative political groups to lavish spending on employee conferences.
But Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel declared he was “committed to restoring that trust.” He said he has installed new leadership at the agency and is conducting a thorough review of what went wrong and how to fix it.
He promised the transparency that was lacking for several years as tea party groups complained about harassment by the IRS, only to be met with denials from the agency.
“We must have the trust of the American taxpayer. Unfortunately, that trust has been broken,” Werfel told a House Appropriations subcommittee. “The agency stands ready to confront the problems that occurred, hold accountable those who acted inappropriately, be open about what happened, and permanently fix these problems so that such missteps do not occur again.”
“It has to start,” Werfel added, “with a recognition that a trust has been violated.”
Werfel testified at a difficult time for the agency. Criticized from inside and outside the government, Werfel went to Capitol Hill to ask for a big budget increase. President Obama has requested a 9 percent increase in IRS spending for the budget year that starts in October, in part to help pay for the implementation of the new health care law.
House Republicans have voted 37 times to eliminate, defund or partly scale back the Affordable Care Act, and many are not eager to increase funding for an agency that will play a central role in enforcing compliance.
“We will have to think very carefully about how much money to provide to the IRS,” said Rep. Ander Crenshahw (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government.
An inspector general’s report last month said IRS agents improperly targeted conservative political groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. The revelations have prompted investigations by three congressional committees and the Justice Department.
The agency’s previous acting commissioner was forced to resign, another official retired and a third was placed on paid administrative leave.