Party politics or no, the September Senate hearings painted a grim picture of the agency. A retired New York priest who testified at the hearings described how he had been harassed by IRS agents for eight months over an alleged $18,000 tax debt, and all the while the service refused to show him his tax return. And a Bakersfield, California, woman wept as she described her 17-year ordeal with the agency over a tax bill owed by someone who had a name similar to her husband's. Senators also heard from an IRS agent who said "egregious tactics" were used by the agency "to extract unfairly assessed taxes, literally ruining families, lives and businesses, all unnecessarily and sometimes illegally."
On the last day of the hearings, acting IRS commissioner Michael Dolan apologized for the IRS' mistakes and promised to take immediate action to correct them. "The service takes these situations seriously, and we do want instances like these brought to our attention," he told the senators.
Not wanting to appear unreceptive to growing lawmaker and taxpayer demands for change, the White House recently said it had changed its position and would not oppose a House bill to overhaul the IRS. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Bill Archer (R-TX), passed in the House in November; the Senate is expected to consider its version of the bill in the spring.
Despite its apparent support, the White House says it will continue to work to improve the Archer bill. The legislation was made more palatable to President Clinton when Archer agreed to delete a provision that would have stripped the president of his power to hire and fire the IRS commissioner.