Was the IRS Doomed From the Start? – Plus the DorobekINSIDER’s 7 Stories

On GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER:

  • Social media has revolutionized government's interactions with its citizens. A new survey by NASCIO found 100% of state chief information officers said social media is apart of their business operations. 83% said they use Facebook. 81% use Twitter. 83% use Youtube. 80% of CIOs say social media is either essential or a high priority at their agency.  Click here for the full recap.

But up front: The IRS and political groups... the IRS was doomed from the start

It is always a problem when we rush to judgement. One would hope that would be the takeaways from the so-called IRS targeting scandal, as I suggested in my conversation on the topic with Tom Fox of the Partnership for Public Service. (I, of course, write this knowing that we probably still do not know the full story and that more revolutions are yet to come.)

The IRS noted yesterday that the so-called targeting of right leaning political groups wasn’t reserved for the right, but the IRS was also “targeting” left leaning groups too. (The IRS apparently was targeting ‘open source’ too.)

To careful government watchers, that important detail seems to bring the story into more clear focus. There is the crass question: Why didn’t the IRS announce this detail earlier? One of the things that has baffled me about this situation was the fact that it was so political. It seems very difficult to believe that IRS career employees would target conservative groups, unless, of course, they were told to by a political appointee. The mantra for most career federal employees is don’t do anything that will end up on the front page of The Washington Post.

Rep. Paul Ryan was on CBS This Morning Tuesday arguing that the IRS was “inefficient.”

"We still don't know who ordered this kind of targeting, why it took so long for them to clean in up," he said. "We don't know about the harassment that occurred after these groups were singled out. ... There are lots of inefficiency questions."

I’m not sure what Ryan is talking about when he (repeatedly) talks about harassment and intimidation, unless it is intimidating for a political group to not receive a tax exempt status. And it now seems that this wasn’t “targeting” at all. We don’t have numbers yet, but it seems IRS, in fact, trying to be efficient by looking specifically groups where there were political leanings to determine if they met requirements to be tax exempt.

Politico writes today that the acting IRS Director Danny Werfel said that the agency used  “inappropriate and questionable criteria” to flag groups seeking a tax exemption even after the tea-party targeting scandal came to light And the IRS announced it was suspending the use of screening criteria of the type that led to heavy-handed scrutiny of potentially political groups.

This is a classic government problem: The government agency that has to carry out unclear rules.

Again, Rep. Ryan: "We know that the IRS did target people based upon their political beliefs. Who cares whether they're right or left? The fact that they're targeting people for harassment based on their political should be cause enough alone for outrage."

The question we should be asking is why are lawmakers and the courts passing laws that are clear -- or why don’t we have a process to deal with questions as they arise. Personally, I’d like to know why ANY group that is political gets a tax exempt status? The issue seems so fraught for confusion and political bickering, but that would lead to larger questions about the tax code.

Ron Fortier in The National Journal saysthe best solution right now: A special prosecutor. He argues that neither Democratic or Republican cherry-picked findings will restore the public's trust.

“If forced to guess, I would say that the IRS and its White House masters are guilty of gross incompetence, but not corruption. I based that only on my personal knowledge of – and respect for – Obama and his team. But I shouldn't have to guess. More importantly, most Americans don't have a professional relationship with Obama and his team. Many don't respect or trust government. They deserve what Obama promised nearly six weeks ago – accountability. They need a thorough investigation conducted by somebody other than demagogic Republicans and White House allies.”

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. In 2012, the number of original classification decisions, or decisions to classify new information, decreased by 42 percent from the year before to 73,477, according tothe latest annual report from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).  This was the lowest reported level of new classification activity since at least 1989 and possibly longer, reports Secrecy News.
  2. NASA tapped a long-time employee from the field as its new chief information officer. Larry Sweet will move to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, reports Federal News Radio. Sweet steps into a vacancy left by Linda Cureton, who retired in April. At Johnson, Sweet oversees the information resources directorate. Cureton praised Sweet, describing him as a strategist who understands NASA's culture. She predicted Sweet will focus on increasing collaboration among NASA centers. Richard Keegen has been acting CIO.
  3. The IRS acting director says the tax exempt unit had a long list of groups singled out for special scrutiny. Danny Werfel says the targeting went on until just days ago, when he ordered it stopped. Initial reports indicated only conservative groups with words like tea party or patriot in their applications were held up. But Werfel says examiners also flagged the words Israel, progressive and occupy. Staff members called the list BOLO — be-on-the lookout for. Werfel's report, obtained by the Associated Press, blames the targeting on a lapse of judgment by former top officials, reports Federal News Radio.
  4. The White House has brought a new crop of innovators to Washington to help agencies launch or overhaul major tech initiatives. The 43 finalists are software developers, engineers, tech entrepreneurs and others with solid track records in Silicon Valley and academia. Over the next six months to a year, some will help USAID apply tech solutions to global development problems. Others will help FEMA with disaster response technology. And still others will continue projects launched by past innovation fellows that seek to make government more accessible for both contractors and the public, reports Federal News Radio.
  5. Late last night, a group of Republicans Senators teamed up with Democrats to pass an important amendment to the immigration reform bill, but that still might not be enough to save the larger package of laws. Government Executive reports, the "border surge," which passed by a 67-27 vote will double the number of border agents along the Southern border of the United States and nearly 700 miles of fencing. The 67-vote victory was enough to get the amendement past a filibuster, but it will still need a full debate and another majority vote to pass before the Senate can move on to considering the full bill.
  6. The Defense Information Systems Agency has embraced the use of commercial cloud computing services for Defense Department organizations and plans kick off bidding on a five-year contract valued at $450 million by the end of August. DISA, in a draft request for proposals released Monday said it initially wants to use commercial cloud services for data storage, Web and database hosting, and virtual machines that run applications, reports NextGov.
  7. And on GovLoop: Here is a staggering stat: 130 millions Americans own a smartphone, including roughly 1 out of 2 adults. That's a technology that wasn't even around 5 years ago. So how can government leverage this technology to connect, engage and empower government employees and the general public? Tune in to find out with the DorobekINISDER LIVE panel on June 26th at noon ET. Register for the free online webinar now.

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