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.

Reader Discussion

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on January 08, 2015 at 11:54:54 am

Elimination is the only way to control the IRS. Besides, it exists to feed the FRS which is the instrument of control, of dictatorship, where the feeling of insecurity is so great that they must have listening devices in every home, follow every American who walks the streets with cameras, hear every phone conversation, all sifted and evaluated by the NSA and/or other agencies. Soon they will have nano particles in every human on the planet, particles which will hear and transmit information to those interested, allowing for early retirement and demise for those who might even seem to be a threat to the powers that be, but Faith will bring on the blessing of the stone that smites the conspiracy in its point of strength and weakness, its feet of iron and clay, the latter being the lack of stomach for evil in its worst forms. The whole earth and the planets to which we are now, apparently, visiting in star ships traveling faster than the speed of light, will be the homes of quadrillions of believers, living in peace and security and adventure and excitement. Jesus did say that His angels would gather the elect from one end of THE heaven to the other (Mt.24:31). Chimera, charade or challenge to the calamitous evil? I think the latter.

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dr. james willingham
on January 08, 2015 at 13:11:11 pm


Ok, fair enough - but why not have the Commissioners be independent of the President in order to avoid the problem of "capture." I proposed this for the FISA court - a truly independent body of citizen commissioners whose funding is not dependent upon the Executive or some other admin agency but rather is mandated by law independent of both the Congress and the Executive. You are quite correct that some political "balance" must be present in order to minimize the likelihood of partisan retaliation. Serve for a set term, with each party nominating an equal number and one wild card selected by the voters, and removable by the voters.

Awwhhh, just a pipe dream, nut what the heck?

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Image of gabe
on January 08, 2015 at 14:41:41 pm

I would rather see someone non-partisan looking into stuff like this, who had the power to not only remove the corrupt employees, but also to charge them with crimes.

As long as government is dominated by partisanship, and as long as there is weak oversight, there will continue to be corruption like this. In this case, reorganizing corruption will only create new forms of corruption. The only way to reduce corruption is to police it more aggressively and address it likewise, while at the same time correcting the central architectural issues.

The problem of robbery cannot be solved by putting a council of robbers in charge of policing robbery, at least not in this galaxy.

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Scott Amorian
on January 08, 2015 at 15:41:52 pm

Good final quote - luvv'd it!

I think though that both Rappaport and I were thinking that no matter what structure we put in place, partisanship is going to rear its ugly head and so best to try to "balance it." I am also concerned with agency "capture" of ostensibly independent agents. It has become quite a problem (see recent pieces on Agency IG's).
My own thought is to avoid this by taking funding dynamics outside the control of the agency to be scrutinized, giving the IG or Commish a legislative basis for funding so as to avoid dependence upon the very agency he / she ought to oversee as well as freedom from the partisan Chairmen of Legislative committees.
Who knows this may help.

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on January 09, 2015 at 17:56:18 pm

Isn't this the model we have in the Federal Elections Commission? And isn't the result that the Commissioners are basically deadlocked most of the time, and things are left to run on standard operating procedures? If that were to occur, then the IRS would not be able to issue rules or rulings, but it would retain the same discretion to process filings or not (including filings for tax exempt status) that it ever had.

The opportunity to conduct and issue minority reports is interesting -- but with what resources? Specifically, would a minority of commissioners have the power to direct staff to devote their time and talents to participating in an investigation, rather than doing whatever it is the majority of commissioners had directed them to do?

I favor solving the problem at hand by eliminating tax exempt status. But Rappaport's proposals may be a fine addition, too.

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Image of nobody.really
on January 09, 2015 at 19:08:27 pm

".. then the IRS would not be able to issue rules or rulings" - we should be so lucky!!! - but as you say they would continue in the same-old / same-old and nothing would change.

I do like the notion of eliminating tax-exempt status for many organizations - it would simplify matters quite considerably - but which ones?

AARP should be the first - nothing but a marketing outlet for insurance companies and a lobbying arm for a segment of the population. If Rove's lobbying firm is taxed, then so should AARP.

Oh and, GO SEAHAWKS!!!!!!

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.