Can the IRS salvage its reputation amid political targeting scandal?

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As the Internal Revenue Service political targeting scandal expands from
an isolated policy in one office to a full-blown campaign in offices
across the country, the tax service needs a massive shakeup to save
whatever face it has left.

The IRS tried initially to get ahead of the news by saying only one
office was targeting conservative groups, but that only made matters
worse as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and various media outlets
found that it was more widespread.

“I have ordered an investigation to be done,” Holder said Tuesday.
“The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws
were broken in connection with those matters,” he added. “We are
examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”

CNN is reporting that some IRS officials knew about the targeting as far back as March 2010.

President Obama has expressed outrage over the string of incidents, in
which conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status under the 501(c)(4)
code were targeted for extra scrutiny. He said the IRS staffers
involved would be held accountable for any wrongdoing.

This is not your routine scandal that will pass in a week. Up next will
be congressional hearings, resignations, and, probably, a shakeup in the
IRS power structure.

There are some steps the tax agency can take to keep from fanning the fast-spreading flames:

1. The IRS needs to be breaking news on this scandal instead of getting
blindsided by news outlets. Who said what and when needs be come from
the IRS.

2. The IRS needs to cooperate thoroughly with any investigations by
third-party agencies, examining just how widespread the campaign
reached.

3. Those involved must be fired or suspended immediately, with a
particular emphasis on the people who conceived of the inappropriate
scrutiny, not just those who carried it out.

4. The IRS needs to hire an auditor on an ongoing basis to ensure politically motivated practices don’t happen again.

This story is juicy for it to go away any time soon, and the IRS already
had a challenging reputation. Still, getting in front of the news can
at least help a bit.

Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.  

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