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Dig deep, and IRS doings don’t look pretty

No one likes to receive a letter from the Internal Revenue Service.

If you do, here are a few facts that paint a picture of the agency you will be dealing with.

The computer hard drive of former IRS employee Lois Lerner — she who refused to testify so as not to incriminate herself about targeting conservative political groups — crashed. It seems, too, that the IRS has no way to retrieve her email exchanges with other governmental entities (though it could ask these entities for cooperation) because there is no backup system.

When I served in the federal government several years back, my technology officer told me repeatedly that every email I wrote — including those that were deleted — could be recovered.

Less well known is that apparently six other IRS computer hard drives crashed in exactly the same time frame. Every one of these belonged to an IRS employee in Cincinnati’s tax-exempt office or at headquarters in Washington, D.C. Each of these six other employees played a role in targeting tea party groups. Try that kind of selective loss of records at your next audit.

One of the missing computer hard drives belonged to Nikole Flax, chief of staff to the then-commissioner of the IRS. Flax, by the way, visited the White House no fewer than 31 times during the period the tea party was targeted between 2010 and 2012.

The picture gets more depressing.

IRS employees are represented by the National Treasury Employees Union. Most Americans are not aware that union representatives working at the IRS are not paid through union dues, but by the taxpayer. More than 200 IRS employees — yes, 200 — are paid government salaries (some in excess of $100,000 per year) to do union work. In a perfectly Orwellian formulation, this union work is called “official time.”

The cost of this taxpayer-subsidized union work, which amounted to 573,319 hours in 2013, was $23.5 million. Here is a good place to look for funds for a new IRS computer backup system.

What do these union workers do? They are essentially paid to lobby the very government for which they work. In order to combat the apparently permanent federal employee problem of “low morale” — well earned in the case of the IRS — they lobby for higher salaries, more extensive benefits, better working conditions and untouchable job security.

Among the activities of the NTEU is lobbying for outrageous, unearned government bonuses. At the time the IRS was under investigation for illegal political targeting in 2013, the IRS paid $70 million in bonuses to its employees as a result of a previously negotiated contract with the NTEU. By the way, Lerner — who has ungraciously declined to offer any information that might be helpful — received $110,035 in bonus payments between 2006 and 2012. Not bad for government work.

The NTEU also makes political contributions through its political action committee, TEPAC, as part of its lobbying activities. These contributions do not come directly from union dues, but from voluntary contributions to TEPAC from union members. In the case of the IRS, they come largely out of salaries that taxpayers are paying to IRS employees to do union work, not government work.

Where do these political contributions go? In the 2012 election cycle, TEPAC gave a total of $583,912 to federal candidates. A full 94 percent of these contributions went to Democrats, 4 percent to Republicans.

The current president of the NTEU is Colleen Kelley, a vocal opponent of the tea party. Kelley has visited the White House no fewer than 11 times during the Obama administration, the most recent of which included an event with President Barack Obama on March 31, 2010. On the following two days, the IRS developed its guidance to treat tea party applications for tax-exempt status differently than other requests. Kelley was earlier nominated by Obama to the Federal Salary Council, no doubt to share her wisdom about raising employee morale more widely across the federal government.

About all this Obama says there is not a “smidgen” of corruption. This from a former candidate who promised the most open and transparent federal government ever.

We are well beyond the issue of political targeting by a powerful but supposedly neutral government agency. We are into a political cover-up, which hints strongly at destruction of records and obstruction of justice. It is no wonder the American public’s confidence in government is at an all-time low. This might also explain why many Americans are concerned about the IRS playing a lead role in administering health care, as it is required to do by Obamacare. It is long past time for the appointment of a special prosecutor to bring some accountability to the out-of-control, self-dealing agency that is the IRS.

Jeff Bergner served in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. This column first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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