The words “occupy,” “progressive,” and “Israel” appeared on a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) list used by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, according to media reports.
“When I got to the IRS, we started a more comprehensive review of the operations of this part of the IRS, have been looking at documents and business operations, and we did determine and discover that there are other BOLO lists in place,” acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told the Huffington Post. “And upon discovering that, we also found that we believed there continued to be inappropriate or questionable criteria on these BOLO lists.”
Werfel said he suspended the use of such lists immediately after becoming the acting IRS chief last month. An internal review has failed to find evidence of intentional wrongdoing, he told reporters, but is still ongoing.
The BOLO lists were at the heart of a scandal involving the treatment of tea party groups who applied for tax exempt status. An inspector general audit (PDF) released in May found the IRS had inappropriately targeted tea party groups for additional review based solely on their name.
Following the report, Republicans have claimed the IRS was intentionally targeting the enemies of President Barack Obama. Conservatives held an “Audit the IRS” rally in Washington, D.C. last week to speak out against the allegedly corrupt practices of the federal tax agency.
But a November 2010 BOLO (PDF) released by Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) on Tuesday mentioned both progressive and tea party groups.
“The audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of Congressional investigations and this new information shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way,” Levin said in a statement.
IRS officials have repeatedly denied the BOLO was used to single out tea party groups for additional scrutiny.
IRS manager John Shafer, a self-identified “conservative Republican,” told congressional investigators the BOLO list was merely used to centralize particular applications. Screeners who flagged applications related to “tea party” groups sent the case to particular IRS agents to ensure the review of such groups was consistent. Far from “targeting” the groups, he said they were centralized to improve customer service. Just because a group was on the BOLO list didn’t mean they were automatically flagged for review, he claimed.
“The major use of the BOLO was after the screening process,” he explained.
His testimony was consistent with what Lois Lerner, the IRS director of exempt organizations, revealed in May. She said tea party applications were centralized “for efficiency and consistency,” but that doing so was inappropriate.
“This was a streamlined way for them to refer to the cases,” she explained. “They didn’t have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others and it was just wrong.”
At a congressional hearing about a week later, outgoing acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller repeatedly objected to the use of the word “targeting.” He claimed the BOLO list was an “inappropriate” organizational tool or “shortcut” that IRS staff used, noting the majority of applications identified as being subjected to additional scrutiny were not tea party groups.
[Note: Updated with additional information]