On section 1203: A footnote

A knowledgeable reader who asks us to withhold his name writes to comment on our post “On section 1203.” Our reader writes:

I’m writing to comment on your post on the IRS and section 1203. Like the retired CID agent you quote, I’m a regular reader and a fan. I’m also an attorney with many years of service with Chief Counsel’s Office of the IRS. I agree with most of what the writer says (especially as respects section 1203), but I would qualify what he says about the significance of time elapsed statistics as it affects the targeting scandal. The writer is absolutely correct that time elapsed statistics are one of the principal, if not the principal, driving metrics in the IRS (much to the frustration of a lot of the more conscientious agents and mangers).

However, while elapsed time is measured on pretty much everything, managers’ performance evaluations don’t necessarily take into account elapsed time on all case types (or at least they don’t in Counsel), with the predictable result that the case types aren’t taken into account languish while those that are go to the top of pile irrespective of their relative importance. I don’t know whether time elapsed on the types of applications at issue was an element of TEGE managers’ evaluations or not during the time period in issue (these things can change from year to year), but I wouldn’t assume that it was. If it wasn’t, the fixation on time elapsed would actually help explain the time these applications were pending.

If and when I have some time, I’d like to give you some thoughts as to why most of the conventional wisdom concerning the IRS scandal is wrong and why the wrong leasons will likely be drawn from this sad affair. For now I’ll just make two observations: First, the image of the IRS as being composed of a bunch of left-wing activists that is being peddled in some quarters is factually wrong (I’d note that my own organization has been the breeding ground for such well known radical leftist as Michele Bachmann). I have no hard data to prove it, but I’m convinced that the IRS has a higher percentage of center and center-right employees than almost any other Federal agency (at least among the field agents; I can’t speak to the national office types). When you think about it, this only makes sense, since what IRS agents do is accounting, and accounting is numbers, which is something liberals neither like nor are particularly adept at.

Second, there is no single monolithic IRS culture and any generalization made about the IRS as a whole is likely to be wrong. There are significant cultural differences among various divisions and between the field offices and the national office. And the service centers are a whole other world. For better or worse, the reorganization that followed RRA ‘98 has made the IRS something of an amalgamation of separate organizations. TEGE, which is where current problem lies, probably has less interaction with the rest of the organization than any other division.