IRS agents rate own ethics high, public's dismal

March 22, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON — In an article on a survey of Internal Revenue Service officials -- a copy of which was released last Thursday by the National Coalition of IRS Whistleblowers, a group founded by the Church of Scientology -- The Sun reported erroneously that 21 percent of the officials replied "no" when asked if they had been "completely honest" in their responses to questions in the survey.

In fact, less than 13 percent of the officials replied "no." That

figure is less than average for such a question on such surveys, according to the Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics, which conducted the study.

WASHINGTON -- You may be painstakingly honest when you file your taxes, but the Internal Revenue Service probably won't believe it.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Most IRS officials think they are far more ethical than the average taxpayer, according to an internal agency study, which showed that 89 percent rated their own ethics as very good or excellent while only 18 percent gave the average citizen such ratings.

Of about 800 IRS executives and managers from across the nation, only 17 percent rated people under age 30 as having good or excellent ethical standards, and only 8 percent placed members of Congress in those categories -- the lowest-rated group, in their opinions -- according to a copy of the January report leaked to the National Coalition of IRS Whistleblowers and released yesterday.

Despite their self-perceived honesty, 25 percent of those IRS officials thought it was OK to lie to or deceive the press to protect the agency, according to the report completed by the Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina Del Ray, )) Calif.

And when the final question on the 69-page report asked the IRS officials whether they had been "completely honest" in their responses, 21 percent said "no."

"That's a terrible indictment," said Paul DesFosses, president of the coalition and a 20-year veteran of the IRS. "These are the people who are deciding whose homes should be seized. These are the people who targeted individuals such as Willie Nelson . . . and our neighbors," he said, referring to the country-western singer whose possessions were recently seized by the agency.

The internal IRS survey came in the wake of two reports in December, one by a House Government Operations subcommittee and another by a panel of experts, that found improper and possibly unlawful conduct among a "significant number of senior IRS employees."

The problems ranged from conflict of interest among IRS criminal investigators to harassment of employees who reported misconduct.

Mr. DesFosses said the internal study showed that "the IRS is still an agency out of control."

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