CINCINNATI (AP) – Ohio’s Republican U.S. senator is demanding to know if any disciplinary action has been taken against Internal Revenue Service employees at the agency’s Cincinnati office for targeting conservative groups.
Sen. Rob Portman, who has been a vocal critic of the IRS scandal, is set to demand answers on the Senate floor in Washington, D.C., on Friday afternoon.
His remarks will come a day after he sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel asking him to identify by name and title every employee in the Cincinnati office involved in targeting conservative groups and to explain if and how they’ve been punished.
Portman also wants to know whether other employees at the office are under review and who at the IRS is directly responsible for evaluating their involvement.
“This is a very troubling abuse of the tax power of the United States,” Portman wrote in the Thursday letter.
Workers at the Cincinnati office have declined multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, three top IRS officials in Washington have been replaced over the controversy. Most recently, the IRS official who led the unit that targeted tea party groups was put on paid administrative leave on Thursday, according to congressional officials.
In early 2010, an IRS unit started subjecting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to long-lasting, tough reviews, according to a report by a Treasury inspector general.
Portman, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, also wrote President Barack Obama a letter last week requesting any written communications from White House and Treasury officials to the IRS about standards for approving tax-exempt organizations, tax compliance for certain tax-exempt nonprofit groups or those organizations’ political activity.
Portman told reporters last week that when the IRS was asked previously about complaints that tea party groups were being subjected to extra scrutiny, the agency wrote last year to senators that proper procedures were being followed.
While IRS officials have said the practice was initiated by low-level Cincinnati employees, Portman said, supervisors would have been involved and someone would have been directing staff. He said investigators will try to learn how high up the supervisory involvement went.
Bonnie Esrig, a recently retired IRS senior manager from the Cincinnati office, has said employees there are being unfairly criticized for trying to keep up with increasing workloads as the number of tax-exempt applications soared in recent years, and that the office was “a nonpolitical environment.”
“I’m sure now the vilifying of the IRS and their employees would have a negative impact on morale,” she said.
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