WASHINGTON —The new head of the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged Monday that the embattled agency "undermined the public's trust" when employees singled out conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny, and pledged full cooperation with lawmakers in pursuing reforms.
In his first public testimony since taking over at the IRS in mid May, acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel called actions by employees "completely inexcusable, and inherently damaging" to the agency, blaming what he called "a fundamental failure by IRS management" to prevent it. He said he would hold accountable any employees responsible for misdeeds, promising at one point, "We will uncover everything."
"This important agency is founded on a principle of operating impartially. And we failed in that most basic core principle here, and it's devastating to us as an agency and to the people in that agency," he said.
Previous IRS officials who have testified gave much less definitive answers to such questions. Werfel has the advantage of having not been at the agency when the problems occurred. As a result, the tenor of Monday's hearing contrasted with other sessions in which members often sparred with invited witnesses.
When Werfel said he would seek no new funding for the agency as it proceeds with an across-the-board review, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., quipped: "I'm beginning to like you. That's music to my ears."
But even as he presented himself as a willing partner in tackling the issues involving the IRS, Werfel's answers to lawmakers' questions revealed the difficulties he faces in overhauling the practices and personnel of the agency's huge bureaucracy.
"There aren't a lot of easy answers," Werfel said when asked how he could ensure future applicants would not face the same kind of scrutiny. "That doesn't mean we're not going to find those answers. We will."