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No, the IRS Scandal Doesn't Mean the IRS Needs a Bigger Budget

5:46 PM, Jun 18, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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Vox.com, the fancy new journalism "explainer" website founded by Ezra Klein, is up with a fresh take on the IRS scandal: "The IRS scandal shows the IRS needs a bigger budget." 

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Now, I suppose we should be grateful that Vox is acknowledging that the IRS scandal is in fact a scandal, despite the ridiculous aside about "whether or not investigations were even biased in the first place is a matter of some dispute." It's not really a matter of dispute outside the partisan salt mines at Think Progress and Vox. The IRS openly admitted they were improperly targeting conservative groups. This inconvenient fact keeps getting swept under the rug as the campaign to disingenuously wish away the IRS scandal continues. 

And that's not the only laughable characterization in the piece. This is from the first paragraph: 

Over a year after a scandal involving IRS investigations into the tax status of conservative political non-profits, Congressional conservatives are still outraged. On Tuesday June 17, Dave Camp (R-Michigan) — who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax policy — and Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana), who runs its oversight subcommittee, accused the IRS of covering up key documents during the investigation into that scandal; Philip Bump at the Washingon Post has a great explainer of that whole dust-up, if you're interested.

The words "missing emails" appear nowhere in the entire piece. Instead, we have an explainer linking to an explainer about a partisan fight over "covering up key documents." It sounds a lot more damning when you recount the specific facts—the IRS says it can't produce emails from seven employees central to the scandal, including two years worth of emails from Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the scandal. Lerner's excuse for the missing emails? Her hard drive crashed, and the IRS keeps emails locally on individual employees's computers. Which is an insane (and perhaps improbable) way for the federal government to operate information technology infrastructure in the 21st century. 

Vox then uses this ridiculous example to argue that the agency's problem is not that it has employees using the IRS's awesome power to grind a partisan axe, but that it needs more money. "The IRS has been underfunded for years, and there's strong reason to believe that it needs more money if it's going to avoid issues like the one it ran into with conservative non-profits in the future," writes Vox's Dylan Matthews. The IRS is now facing a 15 percent budget cut from the Republican-controlled House appropriations committee, which is likely upset the agency admitted to targeting conservative groups. 

But does the IRS really need more money? Let's take for example the issue of the missing emails. The IRS's IT budget is $1.8 billion. In other words, the IRS spends $20,000 on IT per employee. Are we to believe that that all these missing emails are the result of a lack of funds? They couldn't afford to keep email on central servers like the rest of the civilized world? 

It's not that the IRS needs a bigger budget. What the agency needs to do is explain their inappropriate actions and be held accountable. And the rest of us certainly don't need a credulous explainer about why the IRS can't explain itself. 

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