Wednesday, May 15, 2013

IRS Example: Where the Workplace and Politics Collide

Okay – so, maybe I’m biased. Or, maybe I’m privy to similar situations where there wasn’t much to report; however, that didn’t stop the media from making something out of nothing.  Who knows?  I do know this, if we just listen to the political spin or what passes for journalism then we’re left only with the results the pundits want you to hear.  Usually this is smothered in partisanship and lacking in impartiality and facts.

First and foremost, you all know that I’m a staunch supporter of the Federal government.  I DEEPLY feel it provides an absolutely necessary counter balance to a private sector whose principle objective is profit – even at the expense of the public.  

With that being said, there exists the necessity of trust.  Without it, the whole thing falls apart.  Rightfully so, the public sector has a level or responsibility that doesn’t exist in the private sector.  The results of some actions can lead to the loss of property, freedom, and in some cases, life.  Therefore, it is paramount for the public sector to maintain its integrity.  That means, it can’t do things like singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.  

HOWEVER, I also add caution and patience.  Speaking from experience, the truth rarely sees the light of day when one side sees a political vulnerability to exploit.  

Does this mean that there aren’t folks within the government who don’t mind the rules?  Of course not.  That expectation is unreasonable.  However, the devil is in the details, as they say.  

During my time in the federal government, I specifically recall two “scandals” - of the many so-called “scandals” that popped up.  The first involved a congressperson who demanded an audit because (s)he received lip balm in the mail that the agency used to promote the latest whatchamadoohicky.  This wasn’t a new issue; the agency used various tchotckes to promote new whatchamadoohickies in the past.  Ideally, these are developed to save the public millions of dollars.  Instead, due to the actions of one congressperson who was appalled that the agency was “wasting tax payer dollars” we ended up destroying (putting in a box in a closet) ALL the agency tchotckes, receiving multiple audit reviews, and our executives made many trips to The Hill to testify.  At the end of the day, there was no evidence of any wrong doing.  We were just told to “be more prudent in our marketing efforts.”  #sideeye   

During a separate incident, an “undercover” journalist recorded the agency again “wasting” tax dollars during a training retreat.  Since the retreat was held at a “high-end hotel” and occurred during the height of the economic downturn, the details weren’t necessary; somebody was doing something illegal and something had to be done about it.  I mean…because, how dare the agency do ANYTHING other than put widget “A” on top of widget “B” and repeat, am I right?  Huh?  Yeah…this guy knows what I’m talking about…*wink* However, what they FAILED to mention was that the retreat was part of a mandatory executive training.   In addition, the organizers put the retreat up for bid and the “high-end hotel” ended up being the lowest bid of all the rates provided.  You see, the hotel recently experienced some bad press; as a result, they were making deals left and right.  Since they were selling low, they ended up being the cheapest option.  Since none of that made it out for public consumption, only the “they are wasting money” crowd was heard.  As a result, employees were fired, reassigned, or “convinced” to retire.  Also, ALL training – of ANY KIND – was cancelled until further review.  The agency ended up losing two years of training.  New hires had to learn on the job… how’d you like to be on the receiving end of that?  To add insult to injury, the agency even banned refreshments.  No more coffee and bagels.  The powers that be put a moratorium on FREE training as it could be deemed as inappropriate spending… FREE training … spending…   
yep, that’s what I said.

Here are your scandals folks...  Congratulations for rooting out the evil!  

Again, that doesn’t mean it never happens.  But it rarely – if ever – rises to the actual infraction level which matches the resulting outrage.  

I got to be honest, based on what I’m hearing, from a perspective of a federal employee, this seems to be the same…I can understand the public's concern, but most of it is fueled by political talking points and media rating hype.

If you would, allow me to provide a different perspective: The IRS is mandated to determine if 501(c)(4) groups are indeed tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations or political groups.  IF a group is actually a political group, then different rules apply (i.e.  pay taxes and disclose donor list).  However, since Citizen United, 501(c)(4) groups began sprouting up like 5-year olds on steroids; the number of groups almost tripled since 2010.  "Citizens" provided political groups with the opportunity to NOT pay taxes AND, unlike their Super PAC sister organizations, hide the money trail which leads to the puppet masters running the whole damn show.   Also, just to add context, almost 90% of 501(c)(4) groups are approved.  In addition, during the 2012 election, PACs and Super PACs spent over $1 billion (psst - guess which side had more groups... 35/50 were right leaning).  Groups like “Priorities USA”,  “Restore our Future”, “Americans for Prosperity" and the “NRA” (yes, they too have a 501(c)(4) where left out of this “left wing IRS c-o-n-spiracy.”  I find it odd that “conservative groups” were specifically targeted for political gain, however, none of these groups (including the liberal Priorities USA) made the "IRS most wanted" list?  Really?

Knowing the inner workings of the federal “worker bees”, I’m not buying it.  If anything, the federal employees (also feeling the crunch of shrinking resources) had to develop a short-handed way to screen the high volume of groups applying for 501(c)(4) status.  Pop Quiz: in 2010, if you had almost 3000 applications on your desk and you were tasked with identifying groups to really check if they actually qualified for “social welfare” groups and NOT political action groups, who would start with the groups named “Tea Party this” or “Patriot that?”  I would.  NOT because I'm a political vigilante striking fear into the hearts of conservative evil-doers.  But let's not bullshit ourselves, there ain’t (yes, I know… I said “ain’t”) too many Tea Party groups whose main focus is something OTHER than politics.  If we were taking a psychometric test and the question was "newly formed conservative political group"  MOST folks would say "Tea Party!"  Getthefucouttahere!!!!!   A group named “Tea Party” applying for non-political status is like a deer running through the forest wearing a t-shirt with a neon bull’s-eye on the front.  It's just BEGGING for attention!!! COME ON!!!!   

To be clear, as I said in the beginning, IF an IRS employee(s) used their position for political gain, as a fellow federal employee, that is the Grand Daddy of no-nos.  Hell, I changed my blog pseudonym during the election for similar reasons. So ANY discrimination, preferential treatment, or deliberate abuse of power is inexcusable and should have severe consequences.  However, if Karl Roves’ “Restore or Future” or the “NRA” had a Tea Party tag, who here wouldn’t dispute an investigation of their tax status.  I’d go as far to say that if they WEREN’T investigated, some folks would be up in arms about what, exactly, the IRS does.  But, that is the life of public servants; don’t do too much but enough to show that you are doing something.   

Said another way: I'd bet you that there are more groups cheating the government out of taxes by knowingly misrepresenting themselves trying to pass as 501(c)(4) organizations than there are IRS employees misusing their position for political gain.  This appears to be a series of unfortunate events (HA! - got in a Lemony Snicket reference) rather than the makings of a political thriller.

I’ll wait to pass judgment AFTER I hear from the staff and not from the folks who are subjected to the political filtration system or those who will fall on the flame in an attempt to put out the political fire.  I'd recommend you do the same.

Is it possible that the IRS is a victim of coincidences than political mischief?
Do politicians make mountains out of mole hills, at times?
Is it possible these scandals are a result of a slow news cycle than anything else?
Do you REALLY trust the opposing party (be they Dem or Rep) when they say the administration is up to no good?
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