WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday.
Terms including “Israel,” “Progressive” and “Occupy” were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by the Associated Press.
The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted for tough examinations tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation.
While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday’s revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency’s new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.
The IRS document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still under way. It blamed the continued use of inappropriate criteria by screeners on “a lapse in judgment” by the agency’s former top officials. The document did not name the officials, but many top leaders have been replaced.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released 15 lists of terms that the IRS agency used and has provided to congressional investigators. Some of the lists, which evolved over time, used the terms “Progressive” and “Tea Party” and others including “Medical Marijuana,” “Occupied Territory Advocacy,” “Healthcare legislation,” “Newspaper Entities” and “Paying National Debt.”
The lists were dated between August 2010 and April 2013 — the month before the IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed. They ranged from 11 pages to 17 pages but were heavily blacked out to protect sensitive taxpayer information.
Neither the IRS document obtained by the AP nor the 15 IRS lists of terms addressed how many progressive groups received close scrutiny or how the agency treated their requests. Dozens of conservative groups saw their applications experience lengthy delays, and they received unusually intrusive questions about their donors and other details that agency officials have conceded were inappropriate.
In a conference call with reporters, Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered varied and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them.
He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately. Lists from April 2013 that were released included the terms “Paying National Debt” and “Green Energy Organizations.”
“There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum” on the lists, Werfel said. He said that his aides found those lists contained “inappropriate criteria that was in use.”
Werfel ordered a halt in the use of spreadsheets listing the terms — called BOLO lists for “be on the lookout” for — on June 12 and formalized their suspension with a June 20 written order, according to the IRS document the AP obtained.