EDITORIAL: IRS scandal must be scrubbed top to bottom

The fact that Internal Revenue Service employees in Cincinnati targeted conservative political groups with "tea party," "patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names for extra scrutiny and, in some cases, asked for donor lists is outrageous and chilling.

These actions are un-American. They betray the principle that the awesome power of government should never be used for partisan political purposes.

That this case involves the IRS is particularly troubling because the agency is entrusted with enforcing the nation's tax code and collecting taxes.

Any breach in the equitable application of law and treatment of individuals, businesses and groups by the IRS is cause for great concern.

No less troubling is the attempt by at least two top IRS officials to cover up the targeting of groups based on their political views.

The IRS said Monday that acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller was first told in May 2012 that conservative groups were inappropriately targeted. Then, a month later, he didn't mention the controversy in a letter written to a member of Congress explaining how the IRS reviews applications for tax-empty status.

A sin of omission is still a sin. President Barack Obama or Treasury Secretary Jack Lew should demand Miller's resignation immediately.

The Associated Press, citing a draft report by the Treasury Inspector general for tax administration, reported Monday that Lois G. Lerner, who leads the division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, learned of what was happening in the Cincinnati office in June 2011.

However, in written responses to a congressional inquiry into the possible targeting of tea party groups, Lerner didn't mention that the political profiling had occurred. Nor did she mention the extra scrutiny in two discussions with congressional staff in 2012.

Lerner, too, should lose her job.

When word broke Friday about the IRS targeting groups favoring limited government, neither President Obama nor Secretary Lew apologized to Americans for this abuse of power.

Finally, on Monday, the president called the IRS actions "outrageous" and his spokesman said that the matter should be "thoroughly investigated."

Not to be overlooked: The IRS is responsible for seeing to it that so-called social welfare groups seeking tax-exempt status are primarily engaged in social welfare -- not politics. The agency must devise a way to ensure that all applicants -- conservative, liberal or moderate -- meet that test.

Lerner said on Friday that IRS employees set up a "shortcut" to sort through large numbers of tax-exempt applications. She also said that the targeting of conservative groups wasn't driven by partisanship.

That prompts a question: If the IRS was motivated solely by efficiency, why didn't it set up a shortcut that brought additional scrutiny to applicants with "progressive" in their names?