Danny Werfel made his Capitol Hill debut as acting IRS commissioner on Monday, putting the agency tainted by its targeting of Tea Party groups into full damage control mode.
“Do you feel like the IRS has betrayed the trust of the American people?” asked Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), chairman of the House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee.
“I do,” answered Werfel, who just weeks ago was the controller of the Office of Management and Budget. “My primary mission is to restore that trust.”
His bluntness introduced a new chapter in the IRS scandal that has engulfed Washington in recent weeks – displaying a willingness to cooperate with Congress, instead of antagonizing ing it.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration revealed last month that the agency began in 2010 to target conservative groups applying for nonprofit status, prompting near universal condemnation from congressional Republicans and President Obama – who picked Werfel to clean up the mess.
The IRS has since become entangled in a separate scandal, after the inspector general disclosed that it will release this week a separate report about the IRS’s spending of $50 million on lavish conferences.
Previous IRS officials appearing before congressional committees have been evasive, prompting scorn from many disgusted lawmakers. IRS division director Lois Lerner, who has since been placed on suspended leave, invoked her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.
Werfel tried to dispel that suspicious atmosphere on Monday. He has embarked on a 30-day review of the IRS, saying that any information he uncovers must be shared with Congress and that he would not come to Congress hat-in-hand, seeking a larger budget.
“Mr. Werfel, I’m beginning to like you when you don’t say you want more money,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the appropriations chairman. “That’s music to my ears.”
In his previous assignment at OMB, Werfel – a civil servant rather than a purely political appointee – was responsible for handling more than $80 billion in sequestration budget cuts. He told the subcommittee that White House chief of staff Denis McDonough asked him to temporarily run the IRS, though he (Werfel) didn't fully know the scope of the problems. “I took the job because I thought I could be helpful,” said Werfel.
He has promised an extensive review of IRS practices, but he told the committee that he has not interviewed employees in the Cincinnati office where the targeting allegedly started. Those employees are separately being interviewed by congressional investigators.
“I don’t know whether to admire you or pity you,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR). “You have the weight of the United States Constitution on your shoulders.”