Inside the IRS office that targeted conservative groups

(CBS News) CINCINNATI -- Few workers know the IRS Cincinnati office better than Bonnie Esrig, who worked there for 24 years.

She retired from her job as a senior manager in January.

Bonnie Esrig worked at the Cincinnati IRS office for 24 years.
Bonnie Esrig worked at the Cincinnati IRS office for 24 years.
CBS News

Esrig said she did not recall any discussion of politics in the office.

"Politics and religion were things people generally didn't talk about at work," she said.

Esrig did not work on political cases and was not connected to the applications at the center of the controversy. But she worked in the same office where fewer than 200 people were dealing with 73,000 applications for exemptions last year.

She said there was little guidance on how to differentiate between so-called social welfare groups that deserved exemptions and political advocacy groups that did not.

Esrig said the office was swamped.

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"There was an awful lot of confusion during that time, both in Cincinnati and in headquarters," she said.

She said the agents searched for shortcuts to identify groups seeking exemptions.

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"It was looking for patterns. There are variables that may have caused some groups to come up more than others, like of there were liberal groups but they had different names, it might have been harder to detect a pattern," Esrig said. "But if you had another group where maybe "tea party" showed up in a lot of the applications, then it's like, 'OK, here's a lot of the same thing.'"

Esrig said she could see why people would believe that the Obama administration was using the IRS as a cudgel to beat up political opponents, but she added, "I just don't think that it was realistic, and I feel certain that didn't happen."

Esrig also said that in her 24 years in the IRS Cincinnati office under two Democratic and two Republican presidents, she never heard anyone say the words, "The president wants this done."

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.