WASHINGTON — President Obama announced the resignation Wednesday evening of Steven Miller, acting commissioner of the embattled Internal Revenue Service, a move the president said was essential to restore the public’s faith following revelations that the agency inappropriately singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.
Calling the conduct of the agency “inexcusable,” Obama said he would “do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Americans have a right to be angry, the president added in a hastily called evening news conference at the White House. “And I’m angry about it.”
Miller, a career IRS employee, became the agency’s acting commissioner in November 2012, when then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman ended his five-year term.
Miller’s role in the tax agency’s mishandling of advocacy groups seeking tax-exempt status has come under increasing scrutiny in recent days after revelations that he had not disclosed the issue to Congress after being briefed on it. Several lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have called for Miller’s resignation
As deputy IRS commissioner for services and enforcement before his promotion in November, Miller at times handled questions from members of Congress who were hearing complaints of intrusive questions made by conservative organizations.
He became aware that there were potential problems in the way the IRS was handling applications more than a year ago, an inspector general’s report said this week. In late March 2012, amid media stories that tea party groups were having difficulty getting their applications approved, he asked one of his managers to find out what was going on and make recommendations.
On May 3, 2012, Miller learned that the agency had improperly singled out groups by name for additional examination of their applications for tax-exempt status, the IRS said this week.
But six weeks later, in a letter to the chairman of a key House oversight subcommittee, Miller made no mention of the problems and wrote that after an increase in applications for tax-exempt status in 2010, the agency “took steps to coordinate the handling of the cases to ensure consistency.”
Miller noted that some applications had lingered “for a longer time than expected,” according to the letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times, dated June 15, 2012. And he made an allusion to some internal problems, writing that, in early 2012, “issues with respect to these cases were brought to the attention” of top officials who “ensured more timely and consistent handling of the cases.”
He continued to defend the IRS in letters to Congress in June and in September 2012 — months after the agency’s attorneys had flagged some of the questions as “troubling” and the agency had decided to destroy some donor information.
In July, testifying before a House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, Miller described the process for evaluating social welfare groups, without mentioning the problems in the IRS evaluations process. “We ask questions,” Miller testified. “We also went back afterward and said, by the way, if these questions are too much for you, let’s talk.”
In a USA Today op-ed published Monday, Miller acknowledged “mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation.” He said the IRS was ill-equipped to deal with the deluge of 501(c)(4) applications the agency received starting in 2010.
He also blamed ambiguity in the laws on the so-called social welfare groups, which are permitted to engage in some political activity but not exclusively so. “The new procedures we have implemented ensure the mistakes we made won’t be repeated,” Miller wrote.