Editorial: IRS agents, superiors must be punished for unfair, biased actions

May. 14, 2013 @ 11:57 PM

Perhaps it’s naive to think that any government agency can be unbiased, its employees free of the prejudices and personal agendas that mark so many people. The Internal Revenue Service was thought or hoped by some to be one of those agencies. Not any more. As much as people profess to hate it, they now have reason to distrust it.

Seems at least some agents in the IRS targeted conservative political agencies for special and unfair treatment. Documents set to be released this week by the IRS watchdog show that the agency targeted Tea Party organizations and other groups focused on government spending and the federal debt. Those targeted agencies were seeking tax-exempt status. That’s a status that should be hard to get and require documentation, but in this case the IRS went way, way beyond what it should have.

The IRS also applied extra scrutiny to applicants with statements that “criticize how the country is run” or that sought to educate the public on how to “make America a better place to live,” designations that would have included conservative political groups looking to apply for tax-exempt status. Those disclosures are included in the appendix of an inspector general’s report, obtained by CNN, that has caused widespread anger among lawmakers as well as conservative groups.

It should enrage everyone, no matter their political leanings. If the IRS can go after Tea Party groups, it can go after liberal groups, religious groups and any organizations whose ideals and principles may be in contrast with what some IRS bureau or bureaucrats may think is right.

President Obama vowed to hold the IRS accountable if political targeting proves true. “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous. And there’s no place for it,” Obama told reporters. “And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re ... applying the laws in a nonpartisan way.”

That sounds good, but what is to become of the agents who ordered this level of scrutiny? And any superiors who explicitly or tacitly approved of such conduct? An apology from the IRS chief is nice and certainly called for, but if nobody is punished and if jobs are not lost, then the apology is a hollow reaction to a serious and dangerous practice.