An inspector general’s report issued Tuesday blamed ineffective Internal Revenue Service management in the failure to stop employees from singling out conservative groups for added scrutiny. Congressional aides, meanwhile, sought to determine whether the Obama administration’s knowledge of the effort extended beyond the I.R.S. House and Senate aides said they were focusing on an Aug. 4, 2011, meeting in which the I.R.S.’s chief counsel appears to have conferred with agency officials to discuss the activities of a team in the Cincinnati field office that had been subjecting applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party and other conservative groups to a greater degree of review than those from other organizations. Under I.R.S. rules, the agency’s chief counsel, William J. Wilkins, reports to the Treasury Department’s general counsel, and investigators want to determine if Mr. Wilkins took the issue out of the independent I.R.S. to other parts of the Obama administration.
If the inquiry determines any new link to the administration, it could change the political equation for the White House, which has stressed the I.R.S.’s independence even as President Obama has castigated the agency over the allegations of political bias. A bipartisan investigation by the Senate Finance Committee built steam on Tuesday, and the House Ways and Means Committee prepared for the first hearing on the matter on Friday with an extensive request for documents from the I.R.S. The House Oversight Committee formally accused one I.R.S. official of misleading lawmakers on four occasions.
“What we don’t know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the I.R.S. to the White House,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “But we do know this: we can’t count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal, because so far they’ve been anything but.”
Late Tuesday, Mr. Obama said in a statement that “the report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable.”
“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.,” he said, adding, “This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.”