- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Americans disgusted with decades of bipartisan corruption respond instinctively to the idea of a fresh-faced, apolitical outsider. Well, Shelley L. Davis really is such a person -- which just goes to show the downside of getting what you wish for.
Davis, who spent eight years as the IRS's "first -- and last" official historian, seems utterly lacking in the most basic political savvy. She was no novice when she came to the agency, having spent nine years writing top-secret histories for the Air Force and the Defense Mapping Agency. But you wouldn't know it from the ingenuous fury she brings to this account of the mishaps and cover-ups at the IRS. Fond of history's sentimental side (she likes to mention Paul Revere, and seems obsessed with the Whiskey Rebellion), Davis was shocked -- shocked! -- by the goings-on at the bureaucracy she then called home. In fact, that's how this book came to be. What started as official history is now an unauthorized biography of the IRS.
Not that Davis doesn't cite some significant abuses -- like the IRS's list of radical groups suspected of tax evasion in the early '70s, likened at the time to Nixon's infamous "enemies list." But most of her stories aren't so dramatic. She tells of "The Chicago Three," a trio of employees who were harassed with low performance reviews and transfers after reporting their boss's misconduct. His crimes? Accepting lunches, theater tickets and a bag of free meat -- "six prime steaks, ten pounds of ground beef, and a few pounds of cheese" -- from a guy with a dubious tax problem.
Incidents like these will seem downright cute to anyone familiar with the FBI's COINTELPRO operations -- or, more recently, with the government's "War on Drugs." For one thing, all of Davis' efforts to establish a pattern of abuse end up doing exactly the opposite. The IRS she portrays can't even get its computers working, much less mastermind evil schemes against the citizenry. Unbridled Power? It's more like "Unbridled Bumbling."
What's unfortunate is that there's a half-decent book hiding here somewhere. Davis did make one crucial discovery while on the inside: that the IRS, unlike other governmental agencies, routinely obliterates its history. The agency hoards or destroys records rather than sending them to the National Archives, so there's no evidence of exactly what it's been doing all these years. Davis' descriptions of her efforts at preservation make great, dishy reading -- she tells of whispered calls from frightened secretaries, of the occasional maverick bureaucrat revealing dusty roomfuls of forgotten lore.
The problem is, there simply wasn't enough in those rooms to fuel much of an exposé. Davis' tenure at the IRS may have educated her, but it's unlikely to enlighten anyone else. -- Salon