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May 19, 2013

Washington Week: Focus on Burma, US Government Scandals

by Michael Bowman

A groundbreaking visit by Burma’s president and continuing probes of U.S. government scandals highlight a busy week ahead in Washington.

Six months after President Barack Obama visited Rangoon, President Thein Sein reciprocates Monday with a visit to the White House.  Last November, Obama hailed democratic reforms in Burma.

“A dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip.  Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform.  A civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself," he said.

After decades of estrangement, the United States sees engagement with Burma as a means to encourage further political and economic liberalization.

Should Obama press his Burmese counterpart on the importance of honest and transparent governance, he would be doing so at a time when the U.S. government is under investigation for misdeeds of its own.

Congressional probes of multiple scandals engulfing the Obama administration are continuing.  Last week, Steven Miller, the acting chief of the U.S. tax collecting agency resigned after the Internal Revenue Service admitted to singling out conservative political groups for heightened scrutiny.

“I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes we made and the poor customer service we provided.  The affected organizations and the American public deserve better," he said.

Lawmakers like Republican Kevin Brady want to know exactly what took place at the IRS, and whether those activities were known or even sanctioned by the Obama administration.

"Is this still America?  Is this government so drunk in power that it would turn its full force, its full might to harass and intimidate and threaten an average American who only wants her voice and their voices heard," he said.

White House officials note that the IRS is a politically-independent agency. President Obama says he, too is outraged by the scandal. “It is inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.  I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency," he said.

Later in the week, the president is expected to speak on America’s counter-terrorism efforts, including his administration’s long-standing promise to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.