Reforming the IRS in Light of the Scandal

Given the IRS scandal, it is worthwhile considering what reforms might be enacted in order to prevent future wrongdoing by the agency.

The IRS is currently structured to prevent politics from intruding into the administration of the tax laws.  The IRS structure does this by employing very few political appointees.  The idea is that a predominance of civil service employees will prevent political abuses.

Obviously, this civil service model did not operate to prevent the IRS scandal.  Lois Lerner, as Director of Exempt Organizations, was a civil service employee, but was quite political.  More generally, it is well known that many civil service employees have strong political views and some of them are willing to take actions to further those views.

If the civil service model is inadequate to protect against politicization, then what alternative model might make sense?  I favor a system of internal checks and balances.

Under this alternative model, the IRS would be changed into a commission with 7 commissioners having authority to operate the agency.  (Unlike most other commissions, this commission need not be made independent of the President.)  The commission would be required to contain commissioners of both parties (and there should be checks employed to prevent shenanigans from undermining this requirement).

With commissioners of both parties, the IRS would now have people in the inside reflecting a diversity of interests and views.  By itself, this would constitute a significant check on the agency’s ability to take partisan actions.

But this check should be combined with additional powers for the commissioners of the minority party.  Two commissioners should have the authority to initiate an investigation into any matter and to publish the results of that investigation (subject to the normal regulations concerning taxpayer privacy).

While no structural check can prevent all wrongdoing, some structures are better than others.  And this new structure would both deter and provide an earlier warning against politicized action.