Daniel Werfel condemns IRS while pledging change
By: Lauren French
June 3, 2013 04:25 PM EDT
In his first congressional appearance since assuming control of the IRS, Daniel Werfel pledged to create a more transparent agency and root out the culture of lax management that helped spawn the tea party targeting scandal.
Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Monday, the acting IRS commissioner didn’t shy away from condemning the agency but told lawmakers he is already working to fix the problems.
“These failures have undermined that public’s trust in the IRS’s ability to administer the tax laws in a fair and impartial manner,” he said. “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.”
He sought to project a different tone from his predecessors — Steven Miller and Doug Shulman — who were blasted by lawmakers during hearings last month for failing to adequately take responsibility for the agency’s missteps.
Werfel’s appearance comes only 12 days after he officially took control of an agency that was plunged into scandal last month following news that IRS employees improperly targeted conservative groups for extra review during the process of approving tax exemption requests. President Barack Obama installed him as the agency’s leader after the administration asked Miller to step down.
Though the IRS has missed several deadlines to turn over documents to investigators on the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees, Werfel pledged to fully cooperate with lawmakers probing the agency.
Still, Republicans on the committee — which helps determine how much funding the IRS receives — continued to slam the agency. They said the targeting program — combined with more recent revelations about excessive agency spending on conferences — calls into question pleas from the agency for a larger budget.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, the chairman of the House Appropriations financial services subcommittee, said the panel needs to reevaluate the money given to the IRS after learning that resources were spent on parody videos and lavish conferences instead of tax enforcement.
“Before Congress spends one more dime on the IRS, we need to know how it spends the money it already receives,” the Florida Republican said. “We need to know what safeguards the IRS plans to have in place to make sure the funds are used in a legal and appropriate way.”
Werfel said installing new leadership to oversee the tax-exempt division will help create new standards for employees handling applications for tax exemptions. He appointed Michael Julianelle as the acting commissioner of the tax exempt and government entities division — a position vacated by the recent retirement of Joseph Grant.
One of Julianelle’s first tasks will be to clear the backlog of applications for 501(c)(4) status, Werfel said.
But he pushed back against Republicans who questioned if the agency was adequately using its resources. He said that the $12.9 billion appropriated in Obama’s budget is “vital” to help the agency investigative tax evasion and provide customer service.
But that message did not sit well with panel Republicans. Rep. Hal Rogers, the chairman of the full Appropriations committee, warned that future IRS budget appropriations could be tied to Werfel’s response to rooting out the problems within the agency.
Even Democrats faulted the IRS for mismanagement in targeting conservative groups, but cautioned that significant defunding of the agency would lead to further mistakes.
“It hurts me … that while I and others stood to support the IRS, it was not doing what it was supposed to do,” said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.).