The IRS acting commissioner and the inspector general of the Treasury Department revealed they have yet to determine who ordered the targeting of conservative groups during testimony before Congress on Monday.
The new Acting Commissioner for the IRS Danny Werfel and Treasury inspector general of tax administration Russell George appeared before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to face questions about the scandals.
Congressmen peppered the two witnesses with questions about the IRS’s management and behavior, although they did not always receive definitive answers.
When asked, the IRS inspector general was not able to say whether the IRS targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for political reasons.
"That was not the focus of our audit," said George. He noted that his office is continuing to look into this matter.
When asked who gave the order to target conservatives, the IRS employees were not willing to say, George said.
"We have to get to the bottom of that," said Acting IRS Commissioner Werfel.
When asked how many groups have applications that continue to be delayed, Werfel demurred.
"That’s a question that I want an answer to as well," he said, before saying 132 applications have been waiting for at least 120 days, although he could not give any further breakout of the data.
When asked if the audit division has been targeting individuals for their political behavior, Werfel said he has ordered a review to answer that question.
"I’m not aware of any such behavior," he said.
"There’s a lot of people asking questions right now," Werfel quipped at one point.
An IG report revealed the IRS has targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups who applied for tax-exempt status. The House Oversight Committee, which is investigating this issue, released excerpts from their interviews over the weekend that suggest the orders came from Washington.
It has also emerged ahead of an inspector general’s report expected out Tuesday that the IRS spent millions of dollars on conferences for IRS employees.
Former White House senior adviser David Plouffe argued Sunday morning that the targeting was the result of "some IRS employees who did a dumb thing here" and consequently not the result of orders from IRS leadership in Washington.
Democratic members of the subcommittee Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) and Nita Lowey (N.Y.) pointed out that the number of tax-exempt applications rose between 2010 and 2012 after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Kaptur suggested that the targeting was simply the result of the IRS agents trying to deal with the rise in applications.
Subcommittee chairman Ander Crenshaw (R., Fla.) questioned the argument that the targeting was only a "short cut" to deal with a growing number of tax-exempt applications. The targeting began when the number of applications for the groups under scrutiny were static, and the IRS’ budget appropriation was the largest it had ever been, Crenshaw noted.
Both Democrats and Republicans lamented the IRS’s behavior.
Crenshaw called the targeting "chilling and outrageous." Subcommittee ranking member José Serrano (D., N.Y.) called it "an organizational failure that is simply unacceptable."
The congressmen noted that the IRS paid out $92 million in bonuses during the time that the targeting was taking place, including bonuses to people involved in the actual targeting.
Lois Lerner, the former director of the exempt organizations division at the IRS, received $42,000 in bonuses, noted Rep. Harold Rogers (R., Ky.).
Werfel confirmed that while Lerner is on leave, she is still getting paid.
Werfel expressed solidarity with civil servants across the federal government at one point, saying he has "deep respect" for them.
Werfel said he has asked for a plan for how to deal with the backlog in tax-exempt applications. He also said he has initiated an accountability review and pledged to regain the public’s trust.
"It’s going to be a difficult process," Werfel said.