Taxpayer Bill of Rights  

Press Release #105-302

Roth Opens Oversight Hearings On IRS

WASHINGTON -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-DE) Tuesday began four days of oversight hearings looking at a number of serious problems in the IRS. Roth's opening statement follows:

"This morning we continue our oversight hearings concerning the practices and procedures of the Internal Revenue Service. Last fall was a milestone in establishing the rights and expectations of the American taxpayer in dealing with the IRS. Our hearings in September disclosed abuses against taxpayers and employees alike, and prompted the agency to initiate investigations and new policies that are already beginning to change the way the IRS does business.

"I am pleased with Commissioner Charles Rossotti's leadership, and the commitment he's made to strike at the heart of the problems we've uncovered -- the use of goals and statistics, the reckless disregard of taxpayer rights, harassment and retaliation against employees, and inefficiencies in management and service. This committee supports Commissioner Rossotti and his efforts, and we realize that one of the most important ways we can continue to support his efforts at reform is through oversight. I am pleased that our investigation and related efforts have already prompted action from the IRS to take the steps they announced yesterday to improve the Criminal Investigations Division.

"History is filled with examples where one or two congressional hearings led to promised reform. But when the lights were turned off, and congressional interest waned, the reform efforts died, and the agency returned to business as usual. The taxpayer and the employees of the IRS deserve our vigilance. The IRS is full of talented, hard-working employees. They suffer under this current system, and they need to see how serious we are. Many thought our September hearings were a one-time event. They now know differently. And I applaud their courage and determination to speak with us, to work with us, and to testify before this committee. Without them, there would be nothing here but an empty room.

"Certainly, Congress' efforts must go beyond oversight. We have heard compelling testimony about the complexity of the tax code, and I will say now that in the near future we will turn our attention to that. Seventeen thousand pages of rules and regulations -- 5.5 million words -- yield a tax code that has become a mine field for most Americans, and even too complex to be efficiently and consistently administered by the Internal Revenue Service. It needs to be simplified. This, too, is our responsibility.

"Over the next four days, however, we will be taking another step in our important and on-going oversight efforts. We will hear of disparate treatment between high-level executives and other employees within the Service, how they are treated differently even when they have committed the same offense. Such inequities, for the benefit of executive level employees, send the wrong message to the average workers, and destroy morale throughout the agency. We will focus on a number of serious issues which weigh heavily on the integrity of the IRS. We will hear how investigative techniques to deal with violent and dangerous criminals are used against taxpayers who are neither violent nor dangerous. We will hear from taxpayers who have experienced armed raids of their homes and businesses. Raids that were conducted on the flimsiest of evidence, which later proved to be unwarranted and the taxpayers exonerated of any wrongdoing. We will examine the sensitive issue of racism and discrimination, an issue that has come up from the moment we first started our oversight. We will hear that the IRS internal oversight is so bad that the agency is unable to track what its employees are doing. We will also examine significant compliance problems. The time has come to deal with these matters.

"Without a doubt, we have a full agenda over the next four days. Our goal is to put a spotlight on those areas of the IRS which demonstrate a need for immediate change -- to continue our work with Commissioner Rossotti and the employees of the Internal Revenue Service who have waited far too long for real reform. With these hearings, we continue to send a message to the agency, and to the taxpayer, that we are serious about changing the IRS. It is not beyond the control of Congress. It is subject to the will of the people. It is here to serve."

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