WASHINGTON - President Obama said on Wednesday that he's accepted the resignation of acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller in the aftermath of revelations that agency officials were putting extra scrutiny on Tea Party groups' applications for tax-exempt status.
In brief comments Wednesday evening after discussing the Internal Revenue Service controversy with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, Obama vowed to take decisive action to ensure that the situation would not be repeated.
Obama called the misconduct by IRS officials "inexcusable."
"It's inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it," Obama said. "I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives."
Obama said that Lew requested and accepted Miller's resignation earlier on Wednesday.
"Given the controversy surrounding this audit, it's important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," Obama said.
Obama said his administration would work "hand-in-hand" with Congress as it performs its oversight role.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like this happens again, "
In an op-ed in USA TODAY earlier this week, Miller said the agency recognized its missteps.
"Mistakes were made, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation," Miller wrote. "We are - and will continue to be - dedicated to reviewing all applications for tax-exempt status in an impartial manner."
In a three-sentence letter to Miller, Lew said it was imperative to restore public trust and confidence in the IRS.
"While I very much appreciate your years of loyal service at the IRS, I find it necessary at this time to request your resignation," Lew wrote. "We will work with you to make that we accomplish an orderly transition."
Earlier on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama "expects the Treasury Department and IRS to take all the necessary actions to make sure this kind of thing cannot happen again," Carney said. "And he insists this happen, because it is of the utmost importance in the president's mind that people understand and believe that the IRS applies our tax laws in a neutral and fair way to everyone."
The White House has come under fire since the IRS acknowledged on Friday that it had improperly put holds on Tea Party groups' applications.
Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee that the criminal inquiry would be a national investigation, and not limited to the Cincinnati office where the Tea Party targeting originated.
Holder said potential violations of law could include criminal civil rights laws and the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by federal civil servants.
But the attorney general also noted that the IRS has a responsibility to scrutinize applicants for tax-exempt status to ensure they're following the law. "I think some inquiry into that area is appropriate, but it has to be done in a way that does not depend on the political persuasion of the group," Holder said.
An inspector general's report on the agency's action published Tuesday blamed ineffective Internal Revenue Service management for the failure to stop employees from singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
On Tuesday night, Obama said in a statement that "the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable" and that he was calling on Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "to hold those responsible" and "to make sure that each of the inspector general's recommendations are implemented quickly."
"The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the I.R.S.," Obama said in the statement. "This report shows that some of its employees failed that test."
Carney declined on Wednesday to get into specifics about what actions Obama believes should be taken or whether anyone at the IRS should be fired over the controversy.
"He'll make clear to Treasury Department leaders that he expects action," Carney said.