WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced the ouster of the top official at the Internal Revenue Service following disclosures that the agency targeted conservative political groups.
Obama, who has been criticized for appearing passive in his response to the matter, declared, “I am angry about it” and said the American people had a right to be angry as well.
Before announcing the departure of Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, Obama conferred with top officials from the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS. The White House scheduled the meeting a day after the release of an inspector general report that showed ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly single out tea party groups for special review during a period of more than 18 months.
Miller became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.
The president has proceeded cautiously since the IRS controversy was made public Friday. While he initially said the accusations were “outrageous,” he also said he wanted to wait until the inspector general’s report was released before addressing what should be done to hold accountable those responsible.
Besides seeking Miller’s resignation, Obama said his administration would put in place new safeguards to prevent a recurrence of the IRS actions and said he insisted the IRS implement the inspector general’s recommendations immediately. The IRS had agreed to seven of nine recommendations contained in the report.
Obama said the improper behaviour at the IRS was especially egregious “given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives.”
The report lays much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington who oversaw a group of specialists in Cincinnati responsible for screening applications for tax exempt status. It does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups, but it does say a top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.
The Justice Department is also investigating the IRS targeting, as are three congressional committees.
In a letter to IRS staff Wednesday, Miller said he will leave his role as acting commissioner in June.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency,” Miller said.