Call it the banality of bureaucracy.
Almost three months after an IRS official admitted tea party groups were targeted for heightened scrutiny by the agency – and six weeks after the acting head of the Internal Revenue Service said the practice had been suspended – House investigators have released testimony from an IRS agent indicating the practice is still going on.
Basically, no one’s really told them to stop.
The testimony came from closed-door questioning of an IRS agent Aug. 1 by the House Ways and Means Committee, according to the Washington Examiner.
In it, the unnamed IRS agent said that even though the agency’s target list for groups seeking tax-exemption was officially no longer in use, the words “tea party” in an applicant’s title would be enough to refer the group for added review.
Committee: If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group — a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
IRS agent: At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
Committee: So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
IRS agent: Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh.
In another part of the interview, according to the Examiner, the agent said, “If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it – or talk about it to my manager because right now we really don’t have any direction or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.”
The IRS says it’s confident it has solved the problem, according to the Examiner, and “we look forward to seeing the full transcript to gain a fuller understanding of the context of the interview.”
But that ignores the “context” of the problem. As a video of IRS official Lois Lerner discussing tea party groups in 2010 makes clear, the IRS has been deliberately building a bureaucracy state-sanctioned discrimination against conservative Americans for at least three years.
It’s an institutional reflex now, and no policy directive from a temporary, seat-warming acting director will change that in six weeks. IRS operatives have a cool title like “agent,” but at heart, they’re just bureaucrats following orders, and until they get real orders to do things differently, they won’t, because they don’t know how to.
That’s the evil of banality.
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