On July 22, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law a reorganization of the Internal Revenue Service designed to "give the American people an IRS that reflects America's values and respects America's taxpayers."
That didn't work out so well.
As the Obama administration confronts a political crisis that has reinforced the worst imaginings of anti-Washington Republicans—and many others—the IRS instead has become an emblem of government dysfunction.
"The service is an amazing bureaucracy," said Bryan Camp, a former attorney in the IRS's chief counsel office. "Amazing in that it's able to get done what it gets done and amazing in its incredibly byzantine and archaic chain of command."
Lawmakers of both parties and President Barack Obama this week assailed the IRS for singling out for special scrutiny applications for tax-exempt status from anti-tax Tea Party groups. Republicans, including Utah Senator Mike Lee, leveled a broader indictment, saying the agency's actions demonstrated the inherent dangers of runaway government.