CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The IRS has a new boss. And his first visit was to Cincinnati, where a group of workers has been under a cloud of suspicion for much of the past year. His message to them was simple.
"They haven't been forgotten, they haven't been abandoned, that we're all in this together and we're going to solve these problems and move forward," said John Koskinen, the new IRS commissioner.
He took office just days before Christmas.
After learning Koskinen was headed to town, FOX19 spent a great deal of time over the past 24 hours trying to convince his aides that he should do an interview with us. We learned this morning that he'd give us a few minutes between meetings in the lobby of the federal building downtown.
We asked if he's seen evidence that laws were broken or why IRS workers targeted Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status. Koskinen didn't defend the workers' actions but said he doubts they did anything illegal.
"We'll see what the facts are and respond according to the facts," he said. "What I really know is what's in the press, as anybody else. I've seen nobody indicating that there are criminal violations."
That comment doesn't sit well with a prominent Tea Party leader in Ohio, who believes someone at the IRS clearly violated the law.
"They were targeting citizens," said Portage County Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski. "They were exchanging information between agencies, which is clearly illegal. The IRS was sending information to the Federal Election Commission."
For the new IRS commissioner, there's another political hot potato at-hand --- trying to increase his agency's budget, which is down a billion dollars from three years ago.
Koskinen argues those budget cuts have led to a breakdown in customer service.
"Last year, 40 percent of the people who called the IRS did not get through," he said. "That's unacceptable. It's intolerable. We shouldn't treat taxpayers that way."
It's a problem he acknowledges isn't likely to get better this year, with tax season on the horizon and some members of Congress who believe the agency needs to be punished, not get more funding.