5 Leadership Lessons from the IRS Scandal – Plus Your Memorial Day Reads!

Almost two weeks have passed since the Internal Revenue Service first publicly admitted to singling out conservative groups. What we know: In short, the IRS targeted certain conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny at beginning in 2010, according to an inspector general’s report. Lois G. Lerner, the agency official who oversees tax-exempt groups, first revealed publicly (in response to a question she planted) on May 10 that IRS personnel had targeted the groups. The IRS has insisted that the effort was a misguided attempt at greater efficiency rather than a partisan endeavor – reports the Washington Post.

So what lessons can we glean from this incident? Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program why this incident has blown up.

Fox says this is bad for government for two reasons:

  1. What happened was completely and utterly inexcusable. In a town where we can find very little to agree on, both sides of the aisle agree this was bad.
  2. It tarnishes the IRS as an organization, which isn’t fair.

Daniel Werfel started on Wednesday as the new acting administrator of the Internal Revenue Service, succeeding Steven T. Miller, who resigned under pressure last week.

Fox had five leadership tips for Werfel:

  1. Process issues need to be addressed internally quickly. The fact that you had an individual or small group making a decision without any sort of oversight on the part of their leadership is a major breakdown. Werfel will need to redefine and clarify the expectations you have of folks and making sure there is a clear line of sight between managers and employees.
  2. Don’t micro-manage, but on matters where there has been a huge deluge of applications and there aren’t the people behind it to do the work you need to make sure your processes are water tight and nothing slips through the cracks.
  3. As you become more resource constrained you have to find how to realign resources around mission critical items. What happened here was efficiencies run amuck.
  4. It would be impossible for Werfel to visit every field office regularly, but he can broadcast widely and consistently a clear set of expectations about how IRS employees are to behave. It is his responsibility to hold townhalls or conference calls to keep in touch with field workers.
  5. Hold people accountable for their actions.

Weekend Reads:

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Cover-ups for misdeeds in government are status quo. The first thing that needs to change is the idea that senior officials will be protected in from any disciplinary action (up to and including dismissal) for misconduct of any kind. The US government has gone on far too long “working the system” to protect those who consistently break the rules with no fear of reprisal. This is tip of the iceberg in terms of government corruption worldwide. Yay for transparency and OpenGov. It is a game changer.

Gerard R. Wenham

“So what lessons can we gleam [glean] from this incident?”

That attention to detail is highly desirable?