U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), today urged IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to institute a top-to-bottom culture change at the beleaguered tax-collecting agency. Thune’s primary recommendation was to implement the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act (S. 1578), a series of measures to hold the IRS accountable to American taxpayers. Thune and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced S. 1578 in June.
Earlier today, Thune previewed the Senate Finance Committee hearing and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” with Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum.
Remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“I would like to thank Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden for holding this very important hearing today.
“It has been nearly two and a half years since the Finance Committee opened its bipartisan investigation into the IRS’s targeting of social welfare groups based on their conservative political views.
“What have we learned? Certainly that the IRS was guilty of gross mismanagement or, in the words of the Democratic Ranking Member of this committee, “vast bureaucratic dysfunction.”
“But I believe we do the American people a disservice if we attribute the inexcusable behavior of IRS employees simply to incompetence.
“To do so would ignore the fundamental problem at hand, the fact that the culture at the IRS allowed employees to believe that they could let their personal political views guide how they treated taxpayers – and that there would be no repercussions whatsoever for doing so.
“Simply put, we need a cultural change at the IRS.
“American taxpayers should expect, at the very least, a culture of accountability, of fairness, of impartiality. No taxpayer ever again should fear that they will be discriminated against based on their political or ideological beliefs.
“And so, while I appreciate the changes the IRS is attempting to implement on their own, I believe more needs to be done.
“Earlier this year Senator Grassley and I introduced the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act of 2015, a series of measures to hold the IRS accountable to American taxpayers.
“Unfortunately, the IRS has lost the trust of the American people and does not have the credibility to make the necessary reforms on its own.
“I believe that Congress needs to act to ensure that taxpayer rights are protected and that there are real consequences when they are abused.
“I hope that this committee can count on the support and cooperation of Commissioner Koskinen and other high-ranking officials at IRS and Treasury as Congress considers new taxpayer protections.
“And with that, Mr. Commissioner, I would like to get your views on a few of the common-sense proposals that Senator Grassley and I have introduced to make the IRS once again accountable to American taxpayers.
Questions for Commissioner Koskinen:
“Last year the IRS proposed its own “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” Would you support legislation to codify these rights and to make it an official duty of the IRS Commissioner to ensure IRS employees are familiar with these rights?
“The “10 deadly sins” created by the IRS restructuring commission in 1998 requires mandatory termination of an employee who threatens to audit a taxpayer for personal gain. Would you support amending the 10 deadly sins to include threatening to audit, or failing to perform an official action, for political purposes?
“In your recent letter to the committee you stated that the IRS failure to preserve electronic records, such as emails, “is clearly unacceptable” and you noted that the IRS is implementing records management improvements. Do you support legislation that would ban IRS employees from conducting official business over personal email, a measure that passed the House by voice vote earlier this year? Also, do you support legislation that would codify the deadline by which the National Archives has required the IRS to put updated document retention policies in place?
“Finally, keeping in mind that some conservative groups were stuck in limbo for up to five years on their application, would you support granting 501(c)(4)s the ability to file for declaratory judgement on their application if the IRS has not acted upon it after 270 days? As you know, 501(c)(3)s already possess access to this remedy.
“All of the measures I just mentioned are included in the Grassley-Thune taxpayer rights bill and, as I stated earlier, I hope that we can count on your cooperation on these measures – and others that the committee might consider – to restore the credibility and integrity of your agency.”