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Fix the IRS, Yes, but Don’t Inject a Political Agenda

The acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Michael P. Dolan, has wasted no time making good on his promise to investigate allegations of IRA abuses aired in shocking testimony last week before the Senate Finance Committee. A number of mid-level managers have been suspended pending findings on whether federal laws were violated by zealous employees seeking to squeeze from taxpayers money the IRS in fact had no claim to. Meanwhile, momentum is building for legislation to restructure the tax-collecting agency, including creating a new governing board that presumably would be more attentive to preventing offenses against taxpayers.

Certainly any belief that the IRS was performing its work fairly and efficiently was swept away by witnesses at last week’s hearings, among them past and present employees of the agency. What emerged were tales of bureaucratic ineptitude, vindictive persecution and a blind insensitivity to the possibility that, sometimes, the IRS can make mistakes. The nightmarish experiences of individual taxpayers described in the hearings may have been among the more extreme examples of incompetence and nastiness within the IRS. Clearly, though, they were not unique.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) says reform legislation will probably be based on recommendations made earlier this year by the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service. Among other things, that would impose modern management practices on the agency and provide for restitution of up to $100,000 to taxpayers--like some of those the Finance Committee heard from--who were victimized by the IRS.

It will take healthy bipartisan cooperation to resist efforts to remake the IRS according to the anti-tax, anti-government agenda pursued by some. And it will require determined bipartisan commitment to get to the root cause for much of the mess at the IRS: the nearly 10,000 pages of fiendishly complicated tax code Congress has cranked out over the years. Congress must wring from that a shorter, fairer, simpler law that both taxpayers and IRS employees will be able to understand.

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