WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service's screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including "Israel," ''Progressive" and "Occupy" were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press.
The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday's revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency's new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.
The IRS document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway. It blamed the continued use of inappropriate criteria by screeners on "a lapse in judgment" by the agency's former top officials. The document did not name the officials, but many top leaders have been replaced.
In this file photo, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Werfel unveils his plan to fix an agency besieged by scandal. President Barack Obama ordered Werfel to conduct a 30-day review of the IRS when he appointed him last month.
Neither the IRS document obtained by the AP or a separate IRS list of terms that workers searched for, released by House Democrats, addressed how many progressive groups received close scrutiny or how the agency treated their requests. Dozens of conservative groups saw their applications experience lengthy delays, and they received unusually intrusive questions about their donors and other details that agency officials have conceded were inappropriate.
In a conference call with reporters, Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered varied and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them. He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately.
"There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum" on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained "inappropriate criteria that was in use."