WASHINGTON – Facing a possible firing, the Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s tea party scandal retired Monday, ending one chapter in a ruckus that has engulfed the tax-collection agency since spring.
Lois Lerner headed the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status when she was placed on paid leave in May. While she was in charge, the agency acknowledged that agents improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Lerner first disclosed the targeting at a law conference in May, when she was asked a planted question about IRS treatment of political groups. Less than two weeks later, she refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing, citing her constitutional right to not incriminate herself.
A day after the hearing she was placed on paid leave at the age of 62.
Lerner’s retirement came as a review board was set to propose that she be fired, said a statement by Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
The board found “neglect of duties” during her tenure as director of the agency’s exempt organizations division and mismanagement consistent with an inspector general’s report issued in May, Levin’s statement said. The board, however, did not issue any findings of political bias or willful misconduct.
Lerner’s lawyer did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Republicans in Congress have repeatedly called for her to be fired. The IRS confirmed Lerner’s retirement but said in a statement that privacy laws prevented it from commenting further about an individual employee.
Lerner is an attorney who joined the IRS in 2001.
As director of the exempt organizations division, she oversaw 900 workers and a budget approaching $100 million.