Today Darrell Issa, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform released a 157-page Staff Report finding that Braulio Castillo, President and CEO of Strong Castle, Inc., an information technology company, thanks to a “cozy relationship” with IRS Deputy Director for IT Acquisition, Greg Roseman, obtained government contracts potentially worth over $500 million. The Report cited that “Castillo and Roseman had a long-term friendship that extended well beyond a professional relationship . . .” which was evidenced, in part, by numerous text messages, many of which contained vulgar material.
This may be today’s news, but it’s the same old story.
Issa’s Report comes on the heels of weeks of news coverage by both left and right-leaning news outlets concerning various IRS scandals. An overwhelming portion of this coverage has concerned the scandal over the IRS’ wrongful (or illegal) scrutiny of certain 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status applications (“501(c)(4) Scandal”). A smaller amount of news has covered the scandal over the IRS’ outrageous expenditures and its employees’ unscrupulous behavior during a 2010 Anaheim, California employee training conference (“Financial and Moral Indiscretion Scandal”). If you don’t recall, the IRS spent over $60,000 to produce videos parodying Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island.[i] The Star Trek video was featured during the Anaheim training conference, at which IRS employees, in violation of government ethics standards, received more than $1,100 in free food during a private party in a hotel suite. This latter scandal and the coverage thereof, in my opinion (and as the label thereof suggests), is exponentially more important.
News outlets, not surprisingly, focus on stories that stir human emotion or fear of undue government surveillance or persecution. We thus have the onslaught of press and political debates concerning whether IRS low-level employees, IRS officials, Department of Treasury heads, congressmen, or even, the “Obama Administration” targeted or directed undue scrutiny of conservative organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(4). While IRS officials pointed fingers at low-level employees and congressmen pointed fingers at the Obama Administration, everyone seemed to agree on one thing: “The IRS” was to blame. Consequently, cries for the IRS to be overhauled or dismantled altogether are rampant, and politicians from both sides of the aisle are calling for comprehensive IRS reform.
I put “The IRS” in quotations for the same reason that I believe the public’s focus on the 501(c)(4) Scandal is misplaced; both ignore the most important part of the equation: People.
Regardless of political rhetoric, the government (and its agencies) is, and always will be, a government “of the people” and “by the people.” Not unlike an athlete’s role in winning a game, it is the people’s responsibility to ensure that it remains “for the people.” Michael Jordan, in his Hall of Fame induction speech stated,
“I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it, don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players.”
By demanding an overhaul and reform of The IRS, we are putting the organization above the players. Today’s Staff Report itself displays the emphasis placed on the organization (the IRS) and not its players:
“The IRS is not blameless in this matter. The IRS single-handedly helped Strong Castle grow from a business with $250,000 in annual revenue to one that won over $500 million of potential awards in just six months. [citation omitted] In addition to concerns about the actions of Roseman, who helped steer contracts to Strong Castle through back channels . . . the Committee also found that IRS contracting officials lack proper training on government ethics guidelines.”
The IRS is to blame because . . . its contracting officials lacked proper training on government ethics guidelines?
It doesn’t take a class in government ethics guidelines to know that using your position in the government to steer $500 million in contracts to a friend is probably unethical or against a rule or law out there, somewhere.
As long as “The IRS” is to blame for its employees’ failure to know right from wrong (because they lacked proper training to do so!) and the focus is on political — rather than ethical — persuasions, and as long as we place the IRS above its players, the IRS can be repaired, reformed, overhauled, and upturned, but we can’t expect change. A new IRS? Maybe. But expect the same old story.