Thursday, June 06, 2013

Should the IRS take a lesson from Ohio's Boards of Election?

This post went up yesterday at Ohio Watchdog:

scales of justice R and DThe recent scandal of the IRS targeting conservative, tea party and patriot groups for unreasonable and ridiculous scrutiny in their tax-exempt applications, has renewed calls for abolishing the behemoth structure.

I'm all for that, but don't think it will ever happen. There just isn't the political will to eliminate the agency that implements the special favors and deductions created by politicians through a complicated, unknowable tax code.

Efforts to implement a flat tax or fair tax - where every person pays the same percentage of tax regardless of income - have also far. A major obstacle seems to be that poorer individuals would end up paying more than they do now and richer individuals wouldn't pay 'enough' - though 'enough' is never actually defined.

So absent its complete elimination, what can be done to ensure such targeting doesn't happen again - regardless of who the target might be?

The solution isn't easy, because the problem in inherent in the structure and culture of the agency - and government in general, as Monty at Ace of Spades explains:

The IRS is not supposed to be a partisan agency. The federal bureaucracy was explicitly designed to be non-partisan so that it would impartially enforce the tax laws and regulations passed by the Congress and approved by the Executive. But the IRS like many other federal bureaucracies tends to be staffed by people -- especially at the management level -- who believe in robust, activist government. In other words: it is staffed mainly by Democrats. And however nonpartisan the organization is supposed to be, it cannot help but reflect the culture of the people who comprise it. The IRS, being led by and staffed with activist-minded Democrats, cannot help but reflect that worldview. The culture reinforces itself because adherence to the culture is the only way to move up. Dissenters and contrarians do not last long in an organization like the IRS (any more than they do at the FBI or EPA or DoJ).

It's no surprise to hear that Lois Lerner's husband is a high-priced lawyer with an affinity for liberal activism. It's no surprise that Douglas Shulman's wife heads a liberal group dedicated to campaign finance reform. You'll find the same pattern repeated throughout the organization, no doubt. Like seeks out like. The culture reinforces itself. Everybody's kids go to the same schools, everybody knows everybody else's first name, and no one has to discuss politics because it's simply understood. The same thing happens at college campuses. Liberal politics, statism, the primacy of the regulatory state: it's just the water these people swim in.

This is the basic danger of a government that has grown too large. The federal machinery will trend Democrat no matter who happens to occupy the White House, Senate, or House of Representatives. And this is because the ideology that drives people to vote Democrat is also the ideology that makes them want to work for federal bureaucracies. The organizational culture in American federal service has become not just partisan but positively messianic during the age of Obama -- they're doing it for your own good, whether you know it or not! -- and the urge to suppress those with "wrong" opinions is becoming too strong to ignore. The tacit approval of Barack Obama and other powerful Democrat politicians removes any vestige of unease. It explains the near-complete lack of guilt or remorse shown so far by IRS management. In their minds, they are doing nothing wrong.

So what solution could possibly be suggested to address the inherent bureaucratic mentality of bias that permeates the IRS and other government agencies like the EPA, Department of Justice, etc...?

It's not non-partisan functioning the public seeks, but impartiality.

Maybe Ohio's structuring of the Board of Elections is the way to go.

Because of their obligation to conduct fair and impartial elections, and in order to ensure the sanctity of the vote, all BOEs are staffed equally by Republicans and Democrats. Every time a ballot or voting machine is handled, a Republican and a Democrat must be present and perform the function together.

The individual county offices are governed by a four-member board of two Republicans and two Democrats, nominated by the local parties and appointed by the Secretary of State. There is a director and assistant director to oversee the staff. The director is the opposite party from the chairman of the board and the assistant director is the same party.

By requiring both parties to be present and forcing a balance in the organizational chart, you ensure impartiality in a clearly partisan office.

Why not require that equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats be hired in all government agencies?

With equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats watching each other and ensuring the fair administration of election laws, you eliminate the type of one-sided internal culture that results in scandals like the IRS is currently experiencing.

Many state and federal boards and commissions require bi-partisan representation in their makeup. Why should the employees be any different?

This is not to say that problems won't arise or that such a system is without potential flaws:

* People are human and will make mistakes.
* Third parties won't like the two-party structure.
* Identifying individuals by party and then deciding who goes in order to ensure equal numbers is problematic (and doesn't address the potential for current employees to just change their party affiliation in order to keep their job).

But wouldn't a federal government comprised equally of Republicans and Democrats be better than what we have now?

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