If one needs further evidence that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has veered out of control, look no further than last week’s Treasury Inspector General’s report that found serial failures on the part of the agency to conduct basic background checks on contractors used to handle sensitive taxpayer information. In just one instance, a computer disk with 1.4 million American names, addresses and even Social Security numbers was handled by contractors without background checks, putting taxpayers at unnecessary risk for fraud and identity theft.
What makes this even more outlandish is that this is not just a breach of common sense; it is a violation of IRS policy. Background checks are mandatory for contractors that have access to the sensitive personal data of American taxpayers. As J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration who led the investigation said, “allowing contractor employees access to taxpayer data without appropriate background investigations exposes taxpayers to increased risk of fraud and identity theft.”
If the IRS is failing to comply with these basic security rules, what other rules are they not complying with? After all, this is just the latest in a series of violations of public confidence by this imperiled agency. This falls in the middle of the investigation into the IRS scandal, where Lois Lerner and her cohorts have been found to have inappropriately scrutinized conservative organizations in the run up to the 2012 election. On top of being an outrageous offense against Americans’ First Amendment rights, emails requested from Congress to investigate this scandal have somehow gone “missing,” blamed on computer crashes and improper backup procedures. This is in spite of laws and rules in place to ensure that these emails were archived.
Furthermore, other investigations have brought to light accounts of money wasted by the IRS on lavish agency conferences while the rest of the country struggled in a deep financial recession. Spoof training videos were produced by the IRS while other government agencies were furloughing employees. And to top it off, from 2011-2012 alone, more than $1 million in bonuses were paid to IRS employees who were delinquent on their own federal taxes!
This behavior would be comical if it were not so serious. The IRS has incredible power over the American public to turn their lives upside down if they don’t follow the rules, and yet as an agency they cannot seem to maintain their own records, follow their own policies, or even live up to a basic standard of acceptable behavior. Potentially even more troubling is that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and some of his Democratic allies in Congress believe the agency should be given more taxpayer funding to carry out their work.
This position is absurd — hardworking American taxpayers should not have to shoulder even more of a burden for this reckless agency. Recently the House of Representatives acted to give the IRS’ a haircut in our fiscal year 2015 appropriations package, cutting this agency’s budget over $1 billion below this year’s funding level and attaching reforms to the IRS’ ability to spend on lucrative bonuses and excessive conferences. The IRS is out of control, and if Commissioner Koskinen wants to return some faith to the agency he leads, he can start by holding his people responsible for the IRS’s outrageous behavior.