After a tumultuous week for the Obama administration, the House on Friday began holding the first of several hearings on the Internal Revenue Service.
President Obama, who said he was not aware that the tax-collecting agency had wrongly targeted conservative groups 18 months before the 2012 election until media reports surfaced late last week, has expressed his outrage, leading to the resignation of two top IRS officials. Obama has also promised to hold other IRS officials accountable and work with Congress to make sure “this doesn’t happen again.”
The trouble began, according to the inspector general report, in March of 2010 when IRS agents began zeroing in on tax-exempt applications with keyword searches for words like “Tea Party” and “Patriots.” In June 2011, lawmakers began sending letters to the IRS asking they explain complaints that conservative groups were being given extra scrutiny. That's snowballed to where are today: an IRS with a bruised and battered image, Tea Party outrage, and Republicans wanting to know just how much the Obama administration knew.
As the hearings continue, here’s a who is who in the unfolding controversy.
Lois Lerner: At the end of June 2011, Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups at the IRS, learned at a meeting that conservative groups were being targeted, according to the IG report. The division subsequently switched to more general search criteria. Six months later, she met with some members of Congress to discuss the issue, but didn't bring up the targeting of conservative groups, according to the IG report.
Lerner, last Friday, was the first IRS official to publicly acknowledge that the agency had targeted the groups, calling it “absolutely inappropriate.” She argued, however, that the motive was not political and that it was merely an effort to handle the influx of applications of groups seeking tax-exempt status. Some are calling for her resignation, and Lerner –who started at the IRS in 2001, has reportedly lawyered up. It's not clear if Lerner will testify in front of Congressional members next week.
Douglas Shulman: The former IRS commissioner was appointed by George W. Bush. In Oct. 2011, GOP Rep. Charles W. Boustany of Louisiana, sent a letter asking Shulman to outline the policies of the tax-exempt division. In March last year, he told Congress that there was “absolutely no targeting” of groups based on their politics. His tenure at the IRS ended in November.
Steven Miller: He’s been the acting IRS commissioner since November and was the first to announce his resignation at the behest of President Obama on Wednesday. He testified in front of members of the House Ways and Means committee on Friday, insisting the targeting of conservative groups was a “mistake, not an act of partisanship.” Miller is expected to stay in his post until June to help with the transition.
Joseph Grant: On Thursday, Grant--the commissioner of the IRS’ tax exempt and government entities division--became the second top official in the agency to step down. He joined the IRS in 2005, and became the deputy commissioner of the tax exempt division in 2007. He was only promoted to his current post last week.
Sarah Hall Ingram: The former head of the IRS’ tax exempt division is now in charge of the IRS office responsible for overseeing the new tax laws in Obamacare. (Grant took her job after she left.) Ingram was in charge while the unit inappropriately targeted conservative groups. Some are speculating that she could be the next person to be given the ax.
J. Russell George: The Treasury inspector general for the tax administration was the one who released the damaging report on the IRS. He testified in front of the House Ways and Means committee on Friday. George, who was appointed in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush, said his findings raised “troubling questions” but there was no evidence the targeting was done for political purposes.
Daniel Werfel: President Obama said Thursday that he would assign Werfel, who’s currently the controller of the White House Office of Management and Budget, as his new acting IRS Commissioner. He’ll be tasked with the duty of repairing the IRS’ image. Werfel has held a number of positions at the OMB, including policy analyst, chief of financial integrity, and deputy controller. Werfel served under former President George W. Bush on the Federal Accounting and Standards Advisory Board.