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Most IRS Managers Say Agency is Incorruptible, Fair

March 23, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The managers who run the IRS view the tax agency as incorruptible, efficient and - above all - fair. The most common ethical lapse they see among fellow employees is the snatching of government supplies for personal use.

Seven percent of those officials, who oversee processing and auditing of tax returns, believe Internal Revenue Service power is used at least occasionally to punish or intimidate; 51 percent said it’s never done.

More than half say the IRS should back off hard-line enforcement efforts and emphasize ″customer service.″

By large margins, they consider themselves more honest than lawyers, journalists, members of Congress or appointed officials. And only 5 percent think taxpayers are really bad.

The Josephson Institute of Ethics surveyed 1,500 top IRS managers across the country to see what they think about the agency, how they view their roles and what they consider to be ethical behavior.

IRS Commissioner Fred T. Goldberg Jr. ordered the survey in January as part of a campaign to heighten his 120,000 employees’ ethics awareness. He acted after a House panel probed several cases of misconduct among senior managers and after critics offered mounds of evidence of cavalier treatment of taxpayers.

Sixty percent of the managers said the criticism is valid enough to warrant a thorough cleanup effort.

One of the most vocal critics, the National Coalition of IRS Whistleblowers, got the jump on the agency and made the survey public last week.

″Top IRS officials ... clearly have shown once again that they are not about to effectively deal with the widespread dishonesty and corruption within the agency - and it appears to be the worst at the top,″ said Paul DesFosses, president of the coalition.

DesFosses, who put in 19 years with the IRS, found much to criticize in the report.

For example, 20 percent said it was sometimes necessary to tailor facts to give superiors what they want to hear. Only 42 percent said IRS top management can be trusted consistently to do what is ethically proper regardless of the cost.

The IRS emphasized another point: The Josephson Institute reported that ″results of this survey are similar to those conducted for other large organizations in the public and private sectors.″

When asked specifically, 79 percent of the IRS officials said they think they are more ethical than those in similar jobs outside the agency.

Here are some other findings among the managers:

-32 percent think arrogance is a dominant characteristic; 92 percent cited fairness; 80 percent compassion and courtesy; 84 percent incorruptibility; 86 percent efficiency.

-38 percent said most of the public views the IRS as haughty and arrogant; 13 percent said the public sees the agency as incompetent.

-95 percent said it is unethical to give preferential treatment to relatives and friends; 35 percent said it is a serious breach to use IRS stationery to gain a personal advantage; 19 percent found no ethical problem in wasting government assets.

-89 percent rated themselves good or excellent on ethics, compared with 79 percent for all IRS employees, 56 percent for IRS top management, 12 percent for journalists, 8 percent for members of Congress and 9 percent for lawyers. But only 18 percent rated the average citizen high for honesty on taxes; one of every 20 gave John Q. Citizen a failing grade.

-24 percent drove under the influence of alcohol at least once last year; less than 1 percent used illegal drugs; 17 percent deceived a superior; 23 percent deceived an underling; 5 percent padded an expense account; 9 percent took someone else’s credit; 7 percent unfairly shifted blame.

-13 percent said the IRS often engages in sexual or racial discrimination; 44 percent said rarely; 8 percent saw nothing wrong with discrimination.

The whistleblowers coalition, created by the Church of Scientology, took special note of the final question on the survey: On what proportion of the questions were your answers completely honest?

The results: 116 of the 810 IRS officials who replied said they had been less than honest on at least one response.

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