Yo, Politico: IRS commits — not violates — sins

Yo, Politico: IRS commits — not violates — sins May 24, 2013

Isn’t it interesting how unfamiliar some folks are with religious language?

A reporter passed on this example and it’s telling. It comes from a Politico story about why no one at IRS will ever be held accountable for targeting people for their political beliefs (turns out such targeting is a no-no in our country — who knew?). “Heads won’t roll at the IRS” begins:

Lawmakers pressing for more heads to roll at the Internal Revenue Service are going to be disappointed.

“Why weren’t more people fired?” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) demanded at a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, channeling the frustration of his colleagues.

Turns out it’s not so easy.

In fact, it appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.

I wrote a story in 2003 about how federal data indicated that not a single employee at Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs and State had been fired in the previous five years, despite all of the reports of poor performance at each agency. I doubt things have changed much since then. Perhaps they have gotten worse.

In any case, this IRS story does turn out to have quite a few interesting religion angles (on that note, maybe you’ll want to see Sarah Posner defend the IRS for its actions against various Americans over at The Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” section).

But this is the section that shows the importance of getting religious lingo right:

There are other cases in which fired employees wouldn’t even get to appeal. By law, the IRS commissioner can — but doesn’t have to — fire any employee who engages in the so-called 10 deadly sins as defined by a law enacted in 1998 to overhaul the agency.

The “sins” include falsifying information or destroying documents to cover up mistakes, violating a taxpayer’s constitutional rights, abusing privacy clauses to conceal information from a congressional inquiry and threatening to audit taxpayers for personal gain or benefit.

But would any of the activities related to the IRS scandal qualify? J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, suggested at Tuesday’s hearing that it’s possible — noting that one of the sins is revealing taxpayer information to harm a taxpayer.

When Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) asked if the Cincinnati employees violated the sins, he responded: “In theory, it could be interpreted that way,” if they shared confidential information with outside groups. George is looking into the question.

Emphasis mine. Memo to the folks at Politico: You commit a sin, not violate it.

And, for those curious, it looks like this error was not introduced by Sen. Cantwell.

Sin image via Shutterstock.

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