Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The IRS scandal , in my humble opinion, a with a little insider insight...

Full Disclosure.  One; I worked for the IRS, in two different positions and departments. Two; It was many years ago and I am no longer in touch with anyone who still works there. In short, this is simply my opinion.
In my opinion the current IRS scandal has nothing to do with the targeting of conservative political groups. I would say the same if it was liberal leaning or left wing groups who had been the center of the scandal. This is not to say that in the past Presidents haven’t used the IRS to target their enemies. They have. I just don’t think that is the case here.
One of the IRS defenses has been that they began to be overrun with requests for non-profit status applications from groups that seemed to be political in nature and in an attempt to get a handle on the workload they picked key terms like tea party or patriot to help in sorting. While this may seem to be a lame excuse , to someone who worked there this explanation makes perfect sense.
First it helps to understand that the IRS is an agency that prides itself on being efficient. While anyone who has ever dealt with a government agency may find that hard to believe, its true. When I worked there, again, many years ago, we used to make fun of other federal agencies for being, in our eyes, inefficient and useless. A fun parlor game was turning their initials into mean nicknames. For example, the OMB was the office of mismanagement and bureaucracy. I guess we saw ourselves as the cool clique and the other agencies as being those kids we wouldn’t sit with at lunch. Again, this was many years ago but I suspect that type of culture doesn’t change.
Of course if your organizational pride is based on your efficiency, maintaining that efficacy is essential. This isn’t always easy in a place where the workload can be both overwhelming and out of even managements control. Remember, a private company can choose to not take on more work, or more clients, than it can handle. The IRS doesn’t have that ability. It can’t for example, say, ‘sorry, can’t handle any more tax returns this year’ or ‘we have our max on applications for non-profit status’.
At my first IRS job my co-workers and I were handed a caseload considered at least 2x the ideal number. Our job was to close as many as possible as quickly as possible.  Not that this reduced your workload, as there were a never-ending number of cases waiting in the wings. But fast, efficient workers were praised, admired, respected.
Its not hard for the drive to efficiency to go a little haywire. While I was there I worked on a task force that investigated the scandal of that time involving a large number of tax returns that had gone missing. The answer turned out to be neither sinister nor Machiavellian. A group of employees, overwhelmed with their workload, and wanting to impress their bosses with their efficiency simply got a little too creative. Picture Lucy and Ethel working that chocolate conveyor belt.
Almost everyone I worked with at the IRS took his or her jobs and responsibilities very seriously. No one would have ever suggested doing anything illegal or immoral. But proposing a creative solution to streamline an overwhelming workload? That would have been welcome. Perhaps welcomed too fast, without consideration as to how it would look to those outside the agency. But maybe the villain here is underfunding an agency, not those trying to do their job

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