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'Foolish Mistakes Were Made,' IRS Chief Says

Outgoing acting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Steve Miller as he was being sworn in Friday before a House Ways and Means committee hearing.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP/Getty Images
Outgoing acting Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Steve Miller as he was being sworn in Friday before a House Ways and Means committee hearing.

(Most recent update: 12:50 p.m. ET.)

Saying that "foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection," the outgoing head of the Internal Revenue Service told Congress on Friday that he and the agency want to apologize for the targeting of some conservative groups during the 2012 campaign cycle.

"I do not believe that partisanship motivated" the actions by IRS personnel, Steven Miller told the House Ways and Means Committee shortly after the hearing began.

Miller was forced to submit his resignation this week as the White House took steps to respond to a mushrooming scandal. During his testimony, Miller said he had not been involved in the decisions that led to conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status getting extra scrutiny. Asked why he agreed to resign, Miller said: "As the acting commissioner, what happens in the IRS — whether I was personally involved or not — stops at my desk. I should be held accountable."

When the committee opened its first hearing into the scandal at the IRS, there was bipartisan anger over the agency's actions.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., decried the "systematic abuse" and said Congress had not just been misled by IRS officials, but had been lied to about such practices.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, said the IRS had "completely failed the American people" and displayed "total disregard" of Congress' oversight responsibilities.

About an hour into the hearing, Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas asked "is this still America?" and whether the federal government has become "drunk on power." Democrats, while expressing shock over the agency's actions, also made several references to the man who headed the IRS until last November, Douglas Shulman, who was an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush. Their point: The targeting happened while a GOP-appointee was in charge.

Later in the morning, in response to questions from Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, Miller confirmed that he and a deputy, Lois Lerner, planned for her to be asked a question at a conference on May 10. She would then reveal that IRS personnel had singled out some conservative groups for extra scrutiny. That's how the story surfaced.

Throughout the morning, Miller pushed back at accusations that he had misled Congress in the past by not telling lawmakers about what was happening. "I did not mislead Congress or the American people," he said. "I answered the questions that were asked" during oversight hearings in recent years.

He told Roskam that the IRS had not previously notified the Ways and Means Committee about what was happening — even though lawmakers had been asking questions about reports of conservative groups being targeted — because agency officials wanted to wait for the results of an inspector general's report.

Once the report was done, Miller told Roskam, "we called to try to get on the [committee's] calender."

"Is that all you got?" asked an incredulous Roskam.

"It's the truth," Miller responded.

In the early afternoon, Rep. Tom Reed of New York summed up the reaction he and his fellow Republicans had to Miller's testimony as of that hour. "This is offensive," said Reed. "It's the 'IRS targetinggate.' " If he had been Miller's boss, Reed said, "you would have been fired on the spot" as soon as the IRS's actions were made public.

The hearing ended just before 12:50 p.m. ET.

Related post: It's True: 'Mistakes Were Made' Is The King Of Non-Apologies.

Our original post — "Congress Due To Grill Ousted IRS Chief:"

Steven Miller, who this week was forced to submit his resignation as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, is due at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday morning at which he'll be questioned about the agency's targeting of conservative groups during the 2012 campaign cycle.

The hearing is due to begin at 9 a.m. ET. It will be webcast by the committee and by C-SPAN. We'll watch for news and update.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asked for, and accepted, Miller's resignation on Wednesday. Late Thursday afternoon, the White House announced that Office of Management and Budget Controller Daniel Werfel would be replacing Miller.

The news broke last Friday that the IRS had admitted that some of its personnel looked for words such as "tea party" and "patriots" on organizations' applications for tax-exempt status. If those words appeared, the groups' applications were given extra scrutiny and action on their requests was delayed. A Treasury Department inspector general's report concludes that "ineffective management" allowed "inappropriate criteria" to be used during the processing of such groups' requests.

Related posts from It's All Politics:

-- Some Lawmakers Want Big-Budget Groups Included In IRS Debate.

-- 10 Things We Learned From the IRS Inspector General Report.

-- Exactly What Did The IRS Want To Know?

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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