President Barack Obama ousted the acting commissioner of the federal tax agency yesterday, moving to quell a growing uproar over revelations that conservative political groups were improperly targeted for scrutiny when they filed for tax-exempt status.
Mr Obama, who had been criticised for appearing passive in his response to one of the latest scandals to hit his administration, promised new safeguards would be put in place to prevent a recurrence of the actions at the Internal Revenue Service.
"Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," he said in a televised statement from the White House. "I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour in any agency but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."
The removal of Acting Commissioner Steven Miller came five days after an IRS supervisor publicly revealed that agents had improperly targeted certain conservative groups for tax exempt status. It came a day after an inspector general's report blamed ineffective management in Washington for allowing it to happen for more than 18 months.
The IRS controversy is one of several dogging the Obama administration, including its response to last year's deadly attack on a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and the seizure of Associated Press phone records in a leak investigation.
The trio of controversies has emboldened opposition Republicans as they seek to hinder Mr Obama's second-term agenda and score political points ahead of next year's congressional elections.
Mr Miller's departure hardly ends the IRS matter. Three congressional committees are investigating, and the FBI is looking into potential civil rights violations at the IRS, Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.
Other potential crimes include making false statements to authorities and violating a law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Mr Holder said.
The IRS started targeting groups with "Tea Party," "Patriots" or "9/12 Project" in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general's report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.
Tea party groups emerged after Mr Obama took office in 2009 and take their name from the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 protest by American colonists against taxation without representation in the British government. The conservative groups generally advocate limited government.
As the IRS investigation widened, the leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, told reporters: "My question is, who's going to jail over this scandal?"
Mr Miller, a 25-year IRS veteran, became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Mr Shulman had been appointed by President George W Bush.
Mr Obama has yet to nominate a permanent successor, and a new acting commissioner has not been announced.
In an email to employees, Mr Miller said, "This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation's tax agency. I believe the service will benefit from having a new acting commissioner in place during this challenging period."