By Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- Front-line screeners at the Internal Revenue Service
don't have any guidance on how to handle tax-exempt applications from
political groups in the wake of the Tea Party scandal, an IRS employee
told congressional investigators this month.
guidance, the IRS is giving all applications from political advocacy
groups a secondary screening. And Tea Party groups are getting a second
look whether there's any indication of political advocacy or not.
according to an unnamed IRS agent in the Cincinnati office whose desk
is the first stop for non-profit groups seeking tax-exempt status. The
15-year IRS employee was interviewed by House Ways and Means Committee
investigators behind closed doors August 1. USA TODAY reviewed a
redacted transcript of the interview Monday.
House Republicans say the interview shows that the IRS is still targeting Tea Party groups.
screeners continue to flag certain applications for secondary scrutiny
based on name alone," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David
Camp, R-Mich., said in a letter Monday to acting IRS commissioner Daniel
Werfel. The interview shows that Werfel's efforts to correct the
problems in the Exempt Organization Office have failed, Camp said.
Democratic counterpart, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said Republicans
are "trying to twist the facts to fit their political narrative."
particular screener is not singling out applications but rather sending
all potential political advocacy cases for secondary screening out of
an abundance of caution," Levin said.
The IRS admitted in May that
it had held up applications for more than two years because they had
the words "Tea Party" or "Patriots" in their names. In response,
President Obama appointed a new acting IRS commissioner, who abolished
the be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) list screeners used to send Tea Party cases
to a separate process.
The Cincinnati agent told congressional
staffers he was sending all political cases to his boss out of an
abundance of caution, "because I don't know where management is going."
with the BOLO gone, I want to make sure I do the right thing when I am
looking at a case. I would want to make sure that it is handled
according to (IRS) policy," he said. "We really don't have any
direction, or we haven't had any for the last month and a half."
Republican staffers asked the agent whether he would send a Tea Party
case for a secondary screening even if there was no evidence of
political activity on the application, the agent said he would.
"Based on my current manager's direction, uh-huh," he said.
IRS spokeswoman said that the agency hadn't reviewed the full
transcript but that current policy is that "political campaign
intervention will be reviewed without regard to specific labels."
policy is now clear that screening is based on activity, not words in a
name," spokeswoman Julianne Fisher Breitbeil said. "The IRS will not
tolerate any deviation from this."