A mid-level House aide reportedly said that he was the one who added the controversial provision in last month's spending bill that would have given staffers on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees access to Americans' tax returns.
Richard E. Efford, a 19-year veteran of the House Appropriations Committee, said that he didn't inform any elected official before inserting the provision and advised his immediate boss, Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., R-Okla., only after it was too late to make changes, according to The Washington Post.
On Nov. 20, Congress passed a $388 billion omnibus appropriations bill containing a provision that authorized "agents" of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations to have access to Internal Revenue Service facilities "and any tax returns contained therein." The provision caused an uproar when members of Congress became aware of it the following day. The Senate has already passed a provision deleting the clause. The House is set to do the same.
Efford reportedly said that other House and Senate Appropriations staffers in both parties were aware of the provision and believed it gave them needed authority to enter facilities of the Internal Revenue Service to inspect how taxpayer funds were being used, the paper reported.
"I would guess we all thought it was a housekeeping thing that would help our bosses but did not need to be elevated up to them," Efford told The Washington Post.
According to the report, the genesis of the provision was the problems Efford encountered this summer when he sought agency permission to visit an IRS facility where tax returns were being processed. As the top staffer on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS budget, Efford said, he had a responsibility to inspect IRS facilities, observe computer programs and assess whether requests for additional tax enforcement personnel were justified. But he said that the IRS objected to on-site visits. "They said if someone's return was up on a computer screen and you glanced at it there would be a release of taxpayer information," a breach of privacy laws that the IRS couldn't accept, Efford reportedly said in an interview.
Efford said that he wrote language that would amend the tax code to give him and other Appropriations staffers the same inspection rights as Ways and Means personnel, but that idea was reportedly discarded because of concerns about turf conflicts with Ways and Means chair Rep. Bill Thomas. Efford said that he then asked the IRS to produce a provision that would satisfy the service's concerns, according to the report. With only one or two words changed, that was that language that went into the spending bill, Efford told the paper, but it attracted little attention because House and Senate Appropriations aides in both parties were engaged in marathon negotiations to complete the 3,000-plus-page omnibus spending package the week before Thanksgiving.
"This was totally inadvertent that it would get to be a big flap," Efford told The Washington Post. "To hear senators talking about it as some kind of conspiracy for us to go in and cart off records. It was painful to listen to it. That was the hardest part, because it was not intended."
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