Publisher's Note: Jim Bispo's weekly column appears in the Beaufort Observer.
It is interesting to hear the conversation coming out of the Internal Revenue Service hearings as Rep. Issa and his committee search for the truth surrounding the IRS's behavior toward conservative groups seeking 501(c)(4) exemptions from taxation.
First, it was, yes, we did it and we're sorry for it. (Surprise!!) It is difficult for me to remember a situation in which someone got caught with their "hand in the cookie jar" and they weren't sorry for it. We are almost always left wondering whether they are more sorry for getting caught than they are for doing whatever unsavory thing they were doing when they got caught.
In the beginning (could it have been during the period of darkness - before there was light??) it was only a "couple of rogue agents"out in the hinterlands who had perpetuated this unspeakable atrocity. No, those words are not too strong. If you read the kind of questions they were asking and the level of detail they wanted, I am sure you would agree.
Then it morphed into "We were only following guidance from Washington". And this is where it gets really difficult to find and sort out the truth. And here's why.
A long time ago when I was working at a Government Agency in Washington D.C., every once in a while one of my staff people would come rushing into my office with a "flash" that the "White House" wanted something done (or not done) and that we needed to get busy taking care of whatever it was. Every time I asked who it was that had called with these instructions, I never received anything any more specific than "The White House"
Since I rather suspected the inanimate White House was unable to make a call all by itself, I invariably made the problem go away by asking for the instructions in writing signed by whom ever was demanding we do something . That never happened.. And I never did any of the (frequently stupid) things directed by a phone call "from the White House".
That same approach works with people who ask a question verbally and want the answer in writing. If you make it clear that written answers will only be made in response to written questions, the number of questions will normally decrease rather rapidly, saving a lot of otherwise "busy work".
As a long time observer of bureaucracy in action, I have learned over time that there are certain "truisms" that folks should keep in mind as they go about their business. Some of these "truisms" have been codified into what I call "Bispo's Laws"
I believe that the "Law" which applies to the IRS situation is, "Downward communications are amplified; upward communications are attenuated". Trust me, I'm not trying to defend the administration or the IRS or make excuses for them. What I am doing is suggesting that we may never find our way to a single person who required (or even directly suggested) posing the kinds of questions being asked by the 501(c)(4) folks at the IRS.
If you want to hear about any more of the laws, you will have to buy the book (which is yet to be written).
And there we were believing that once you open your mouth in a congressional hearing, you give up your right to Fifth Amendment protection. Apparently not so for the IRS troops. We hear an opening statement (from the lady who originally admitted targeting the conservative groups and apologized for the behavior). She then, with no apparent compunctions, invoked the Fifth Amendment protection rather than answering any questions. Hmmm... The sad thing is that she seems to have gotten away with it.
Of course that seems to be becoming the norm for Congress.
Eric Holder continues to insult the institution by ignoring congressional requests and demands for information (from the country's most transparent administration ever - Hmmm...). He also seems to change his sworn testimony without explanation and gets away with it. It remains to be seen what fate will befall Eric Holder for his current failure to respond or what begins to look like perjured testimony. Could he get another Contempt of Congress Citation like he got last year for his failure to turn over requested documents related to the Fast & Furious debacle?? (By the way, does anyone happen to remember just what the consequences of the citation were??)
No wonder the public's respect for Congress is so low. They seem to be about as effective as the UN when it comes to meting out punishment. Well, perhaps we could send a strongly worded letter demanding that we be allowed to visit the DOJ to conduct an independent investigation. Of course we could. Oh yes... That would surely elicit compliance by the Holder DOJ.
I suppose anyone who reads this column regularly will be getting tired of the repetitive suggestion that the members of the Washington City Council and the Beaufort County Commissioners own up to their personal generosities by making us privy to the contributions documented on their Federal Income Tax Schedule A Forms. But, trust me, I'm not getting tired of asking. How about it, gang?? Is it in your makeup to be honest enough with the public to share your personal contribution history?? Just asking..