(CNSNews.com) – The Internal Revenue Service has produced 0.019 percent of the documents deemed responsive to requests from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the tax collecting agency for the targeting of conservative groups, according to a committee letter. Still the IRS insists it is “aggressively responding” to congressional inquiries.
Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, sent a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel Tuesday accusing the agency of obstructing the investigation.
“Over two months since the Committee’s first request for documents, the IRS has produced only a small fraction of responsive documents,” Issa and Jordan said in the letter. “Indeed, although the IRS initially identified over 64 million pages of documents as responsive to congressional oversight requests, the agency has produced to the Committee only a total of about 12,000 pages, or a mere 0.019 percent of what was initially identified as responsive documents.”
The letter went on to say that the documents that were produced were largely incomplete with “entire pages of redactions,” “thousands of pages of duplicate material as well as hundreds of pages of printed spreadsheets without columns or row headers.”
“Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime,” Issa and Jordan warned Werfel in the letter. “Additionally, denying or interfering with employees’ rights to furnish information to Congress is against the law. Taxpayer dollars may not be used to pay the salaries of federal officials who deny or interfere with employee rights to furnish information to Congress. The systematic manner in which the IRS has attempted to delay, frustrate, impede and obstruct the committee’s investigation raises serious concerns about your commitment to full and unfettered congressional oversight.”
An IRS statement issued in response to the Oversight Committee letter said the agency is “aggressively responding” to Congress with 70 IRS attorneys “doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the committees, and we strongly disagree with any suggestion to the contrary.”
“While the volume of raw data collected – which was 65 million pages in early June – is quite high, it is a misleading figure to use in order to determine the volume of material the IRS will ultimately produce,” the IRS statement said. “The vast majority of it is completely unrelated to the Congressional investigations. Once the data is limited to the time period in question, and the issue in question, we expect the final tally of produced documents will be far lower – in the neighborhood of 460,000 documents or fewer.”
Since the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report exposed in May that the IRS was inappropriately targeting Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations, the House Oversight committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Justice Department have opened up investigations into the agency.
Most recently, IRS employees told Congress that the office of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins – one of two political employees in the agency – was involved in the matter.
The July 30 letter from Issa and Jordan discussed the problems that IRS Exempt Organizations Determinations Manager Cindy Thomas has had with her supervisors in trying to comply with the committee’s requests. Thomas sought to provide documents to investigators, but was stopped or delayed from providing certain documents by the IRS Chief Counsel’s office.
The letter quoted Thomas’s attorney telling committee staff in a June 28 interview, “So generally the point that we did want to make for the record was we really have endeavored to get the documentation to the Committee. It is with the IRS, and it’s regrettable that to the extent it has not – it has not found its way to you before today, that that’s not – that was not our intention.”
The IRS finally produced incomplete version of documents that Thomas wanted to provide, the Issa and Jordan letter said.
“Of the 288,000 pages of documents that Ms. Thomas provided to the IRS for review, the IRS produced only about 2,600 pages to the Committee, or less than 1 percent of the total material that Ms. Thomas desired to provide,” the letter said. “As of today, the IRS is still withholding over 280,000 pages of documents that Ms. Thomas desired to produce to the Committee.”
Issa and Jordan also noted a letter from the IRS recently asserted it is withholding documents it deems private.
“The July 26, 2013, letter stated that the IRS refined various searches, including a recent search for 2010 election information that identified approximately 660,000 potentially responsive documents, ‘by eliminating any documents that [IRS] reviewers had previously identified as … private in nature,’” Issa and Jordan complained. “Moreover, searches performed on Chief Counsel William Wilkins’ documents were also limited to exclude materials that had already ‘been marked as private.’”
The Issa and Jordan letter continued, “there is no valid basis to deny the Committee access to ‘private’ documents—regardless of what such an amorphous term may mean in the eyes of an IRS reviewer.”
President Barack Obama said from the White House on May 15, “We will work with Congress as it performs its oversight role and our administration has to make sure that we are working hand in hand with Congress to get this thing fixed. Congress, Democrats and Republicans, owe it to the American people to treat that authority with the responsibility it deserves and in a way that doesn’t smack of politics or partisan agendas.”
Shortly after taking over the job of acting IRS commissioner in the wake of the scandal, Werfel told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 6, “I am confident that together with Congress and other external stakeholders, we will address the current challenges and move forward with indispensable work of this agency.”