The issue is not about paying taxes.
The division of the IRS that investigates the legitimacy of an application for tax-exempt status of an organization (called Exempt Organizations Division) is charged with either approving, disapproving or, in the case of these numerous applicants -- mostly tea party and "patriots" groups -- investigating the real activities in which they were supposed to be involved.
These groups flourished after the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United -- regarding political organizations where the donors need not be disclosed. They also flourished in anticipation of the last presidential election.
The mistake made by some employees might have been in searching for certain words in the applications, i.e., tea party, patriots, etc., and for specifically targeting these groups for special scrutiny. It has also been reported that an upper manager of the division stopped the practice once it was known, only to later on allow it again. If one reads the report by TIGTA -- Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the department within the Treasury charged with investigating the IRS -- there is nothing nefarious, criminal or Watergate-like.
If, in fact, the small group of examiners in Cincinnati, Ohio, who were investigating the legitimacy of the requests for tax-exempt status of these organizations were solely or mainly looking into the so-called "conservative" groups, that is definitely not appropriate. Two employees have already been disciplined, which is as far as all of this calls for. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is talking about putting people in jail, which reflects the recurring demagoguery of many of his statements.
I suspect that this brouhaha will continue for maybe one or two more weeks. Then it will be dead. There is nothing more here. One innocent head has already rolled. Acting Commissioner Steven Miller had been in that position for less than six months, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman retired when his five-year appointment expired (appointed by President George W. Bush). Miller was a career civil employee with 25 years of experience in the IRS. It's really unfair, but such is Washington's sad political game.
Meanwhile, IRS personnel are being furloughed once or twice per month, the agency is not replacing any vacancies due to attrition, and the current employees are working twice or three times as hard as before. People forget that the IRS is the only agency in the federal government that brings in money -- a “minor detail” when we are dealing with sequestration, lack of budgets, cuts in Head Start, Meals on Wheels, Medicaid, etc.
People should bear in mind that the great majority of IRS employees are either accountants (many CPAs) or attorneys. They are professionals who are proud of the work they do. Congress, and the public, including the media, should instead focus on those dysfunctional members of Congress who have paralyzed our government.
Dolores M. Padilla is a retired IRS agent. She worked for the IRS’s Large Business & International Division in Miami, Fla., for more than 26 years. She is currently an active volunteer in the Guardian Ad Litem Program in Miami.