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New IRS chief says restoring trust is his 'primary mission'

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The new acting commissioner of the IRS vowed Monday to work quickly and with the cooperation of Congress to implement reforms to the tax agency in response to the revelations that conservative groups had been targeted for scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status.

Danny Werfel, the new IRS chief appointed by President Barack Obama following the explosive revelations about targeting, blamed his predecessors in IRS management for acting too slowly to halt the abuses. And as the controversy continues to reverberate throughout Washington, Werfel told a panel of lawmakers that he had directed his team to quickly implement the reforms laid forth by an inspector general’s report first outlining the problems.

Werfel acknowledged that trust in the IRS had eroded; 66 percent of Americans said they disapproved of how the IRS conducted its work, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week.

Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel addresses a House oversight committee Monday regarding recent targeting of political groups by the agency.

“My primary mission is to restore that trust,” he told lawmakers. 

Monday’s hearing, convened by a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, was ostensibly about reviewing the money budgeted to the IRS to help it carry out its mission. But that hardly slowed committee Republicans in voicing their persistent outrage at the actions of IRS officials. 

“Before Congress spends one more dime on the IRS, we need to know how the IRS spends the money it has already,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., at the outset of today’s hearing, the first of three scheduled for this week in the GOP-dominated House. 

Republicans are hopeful that they can continue to stoke outrage at the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups to use as a political cudgel against the Obama administration, which has at times struggled to explain its knowledge of and response to the misconduct. The uproar quieted last week while Congress was out of town, but the GOP has leaned back into the controversy after returning to Washington.

Werfel, who is in the somewhat unenviable position of navigating the tax agency through its moment of crisis, made his first appearance before Congress in his new role amid the furor.

“The use of certain political labels to determine how applications would be handled resulted in applications being inappropriately singled out for additional scrutiny,” Werfel said. “Moreover, there was a fundamental failure by IRS management to prevent this inconsistent treatment and ensure that it was halted once management became aware.”

Werfel’s appearance also comes ahead of a new report expected from the inspector general’s office later this week which is said to detail lavish spending on IRS conferences and official business. The revelations could threaten to add to outrage toward the agency.

Still, as committee Democrats pressed to direct more spending toward the IRS, which has suffered from budget cuts that arguably hampered its ability to enforce tax law, Werfel resisted the notion of giving the agency a blank check.

“The solution here is not more money,” he said. Rather, Werfel argued that the IRS should first identify the scope of its responsibilities, and then seek the appropriate level of spending it would need to meet its mission.

That testimony won a quip from the influential Republican in charge of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

“Mr. Werfel, I'm beginning to like you when you say you don't want more money,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the committee chairman.

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