"We provided horrible customer service here. I will admit that," outgoing IRS chief Steve Miller told a House budget committee at its Friday hearing. "We did horrible customer service."
This was one of the most honest-sounding statements from Miller.
It was false.
The IRS continues to provide horrible customer service.
It's clear to anyone who's had to lose a day of work by going to Miami's Claude Pepper Federal Building just to file an income tax form because someone stole your tax ID.
Just to get into the IRS office, you might notice that security personnel (7) outnumber the IRS officials (6) who can help. The room seats about 50 and it’s a safe bet you’ll be 60th in line. So you sit on the floor and wait for hours. Then you wait for six months to a year to get a tax refund.
You can't correspond with anyone by email because the IRS doesn't use email for security reasons, it says. You can seldom find anyone to answer the phone. When you get someone, you're not told who got your ID or how. You're not told why you can't just get your money now, considering the fact that the thief was able to get it instantly and anonymously by using a laptop computer and few-questions-asked prepaid debit cards (which make the crime easy to commit and tough to stop).
In fairness to Congress, individual members’ offices (particularly U.S. Senators) can help a taxpayer get his money back far more quickly. Still, the wait is needlessly long.
Why won’t Congress limit the issuance of tax-refunds on prepaid debit cards? Visa won’t like it much. How about having the IRS send taxpayers a form estimating how much taxes each person owes (rather than they other way around)? Turbo-Tax won’t like that.
And, in the case of changing the tax code, why doesn’t Congress require political nonprofits to disclose their donors? The secret-money groups and don’t like that, either.
So what we get are recriminations, political shenanigans and deception.
Too bad the IRS doesn't seem as zealous to catch tax-fraudsters as it was with the 298 nonprofit groups, of whom 170 received intrusive and lengthy delay-inducing questionnaires. Too bad the IRS didn't appear to do the same with the two dark-money nonprofit heavy hitters in national politics: the conservative Crossroads GPS and the liberal Priorities USA.
Last year, I asked the IRS a series of simple questions about the incidence and costs of tax ID fraud.
I seldom got straight answers and was instead pointed to testimony on the matter given by… Miller, who boasted how much fraud the IRS claimed it stopped.
Two months later, the inspector general issued a report estimating the fraud at $5.2 billion in 2010 and as much as $21 billion over five years.
That’s how you get straight answers out of the IRS. You wait for the inspector general to do it.
Congress found that out Friday when members realized Miller didn’t disclose to them that the IRS used “be on the lookout” buzzwords to target nonprofits: “tea party,” “9/12,” or “Patriot.’ It’s unclear how many of those groups were liberal.
But if compelling evidence shows the IRS acted out of purely political motivations to help Obama or Democrats, it would be a monumental scandal that deserves more coverage than tax fraud. That's still an "if" right now.
In the short term, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan got Miller to acknowledge the IRS didn’t use liberal or progressive-sounding BOLO terms.
As for getting Miller to admit he misled Congress, it wasn’t so easy.
“I did not mislead the committee. I stand by my answer then. I stand by my answer now,” Miller said. “There is no political motivation.”
Members of the committee were clearly and rightly unsatisfied with the answers.
Just wait till they get their tax IDs stolen.
They might realize they’re part of the problem..