Perhaps only the Marines are able to make holding an umbrella over another person look powerful and executed with precision. As these marines stood stoic, Mother Nature reminded her critics on Thursday that she too has a flair for the poetic when rain began to fall on President Obama’s joint press conference with the Turkish Prime Minister. As the president motioned for the nearby marines to shield him from the elements with ready umbrellas, the emptying clouds hinted at the burgeoning storm swirling around the chief executive and his regulatory agencies. It is a storm we should all be proud of.
At the center of the controversy is a tripartite collision of scandals involving a series of federal regulatory agencies that includes the State Department’s handling of Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) announcement of mistreatment of conservative groups. Now the Justice Department, tasked with investigating aspects of these scandals, is fending off criticism that it improperly sought information from the Associated Press. In what has become a tag-team of congressional appearances, the IRS took its turn on Friday morning when out-going IRS chief Steven Miler trudged up to the hill to face scrutiny from a congress patiently waiting to have their questions answered.
Is this process political? Yes, there is no doubt that while both parties and the president have expressed outrage regarding the conduct of the IRS, the Republican Party has sounded the loudest alarm. Republicans are likely unwilling to passively allow this groundswell of criticism and call for investigation to pass with a 2014 fight to retain control of the House of Representatives looming on the horizon.
This does not make this issue any less important. There is no shortage of questions to be answered by administrators regarding their processing of applications from political groups seeking to be identified as 501(c)(4) non-profit entities. USA Today, in a series of articles, has shed light on the possibility that the nation’s top taxing entity knew of the practice of targeting groups that were critical of the government far earlier than the agency initially conceded, perhaps in 2011. It has also been revealed that top agency administrators were briefed about this program, contradicting the agency claim that this behavior was isolated to low-level officers in Cincinnati and did not reach the desks of top officials in Washington.
The ramifications of these breakdowns manifested themselves during the 2012 election cycle. For groups with names that hinted at progressive or liberal advocacy the wait time for application approval averaged nine months. Alternatively, the applications of 100 groups believed by the IRS to have a conservative affiliation were sent to special investigatory teams with nearly half of those groups not yet approved. Most troubling is the revelation that during these heightened investigations groups were asked to provide donor information for an as yet unknown IRS purpose.
It is these uncertainties which have triggered the important inner clockwork of checks within the U.S. federal system.
Despite partisan criticism cascading both directions across the aisle, by virtue of a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans the American people are given the opportunity to see how this government was intended to operate. A very real and egregious miscarriage of responsibility has been committed by the IRS. It is, however, what makes the American system so special that the president’s administrators will subsequently be called before a body of opposition to face withering, and public, questioning as well as expansive investigation.
One acting IRS administrator is already out of a job due to this growing scandal, and more will certainly follow. This process is messy, it is at times inefficient, and it is clearly political. It is, however, also fundamentally tasked with understanding and correcting an imbalance arising from a lack of transparency, oversight, and appropriate discretion by this country’s most powerful enforcement mechanisms.
This process, therefore, is unmistakably American. Born of an administration’s failure to exemplify the most vaunted characteristics of the American ideal, the onslaught of criticism and revelation in the press and on the Hill defines how difficult it is to hide the facts in a country founded on the peoples’ redress of wrongs. These congressional hearings celebrate the notion that this principle still holds true today.
Let it pour.