IRS crisis renewed with fresh director in the hot seat — how’d he do?


Those folks at the Internal Revenue Service certainly know how to make the most hated agency in the U.S. Government live up to its name.

They used a lot of revenue for internal service: $11,000 for “be happy at work meetings;” $60,000 for a training video with IRS executives in Star Trek roles; and $1,600 for a video of people line dancing.

I’m sure they were all worth the money; the reports were just taken out of context by angry Republicans. But $49 million spent on 220 conferences over two years? Whoa. That’s a crisis.

When a government agency with 106,000 employees spends almost $500 per employee on “training” — which of course only a tiny percentage of them ever accessed — that’s a big black eye. It’s tax collectors abusing taxpayers.

Don’t you wonder if the IRS managers who enjoyed $1,500-a-night presidential suites at conferences were able to write off the cost as a business expense? And if so, did the IRS audit their expense accounts?

Reuters reported that Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, appearing before Congress Monday for the first time since moving into the top job 18 days ago, promised to restore the agency’s tattered image with a public accounting of the practices that have led to multiple investigations and a political firestorm.

How’d he do?

To some extent there was nowhere to go but up. Watching the hearings on TV, I thought he came across as more nervous than determined. But he stuck to the script and said the appropriate — and needed — words.

He promised to restore trust, apply tax laws fairly and clean up the backlog — some extending 29 months — of tax-exempt approvals for conservative groups. He said he found targeting those groups inappropriate and alarming.

He added that the best way to fix the problems and clear up the crisis was to be transparent and return to testify before Congressional committees. Bravo. Given how clearly uncomfortable he was in the hearing room Monday that was a major commitment.

Those who would dismiss this crisis as partisanship and attempts to embarrass President Obama miss the significance. This is a crisis because the IRS already has a reputation for excess, for chasing down every nickel like the nation’s defense depended on its collection. Abuse of that power, targeting any group unfairly, and spending money like the tax cheats they’re supposed to catch, goes to hypocrisy. It’s like priests abusing children, company executives demanding sex from people who depend on the executives for their jobs, or soldiers killing the civilians they’re supposed to protect.

This crisis will remain and simmer until Werfel is able to convince Congress and the American people that he and his agency are on the new path he described Monday.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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