Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, furious that the IRS handed out more than $1 million in bonuses to employees delinquent on their own taxes, are pushing legislation to put a stop to those awards.
Two bipartisan groups of senators have already released legislation targeting the bonuses given to the IRS employees, just over a week after the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration said the agency recently gave some $2.8 million in all to staffers with conduct issues.
Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOne year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure Chinese President Xi says a trade war hurts the US and China Overnight Finance: Price puts stock trading law in spotlight | Lingering questions on Trump biz plan | Sanders, Education pick tangle over college costs MORE, the IRS and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) have all said that the union and the agency are discussing ways to stop those bonuses from going out in the future.
Even so, lawmakers said this week they should press ahead with legislation during negotiations between the IRS and the employees union.
Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteLewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire NH governor 'not aware’ of major voter fraud Former NH AG: 'Allegations of voter fraud in NH are baseless' MORE (R-N.H.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillJuan Williams: Senate GOP begins to push Trump away Dem senator: I may face 2018 primary from Tea Party-esque progressives Dems ask for hearings on Russian attempts to attack election infrastructure MORE (D-Mo.) released legislation this week seeking to ensure that federal employees in trouble with the law or their agency don’t get bonuses.
Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrJuan Williams: Senate GOP begins to push Trump away Report: Senate Intel Committee asks agencies to keep records related to Russian probe Comey meets Intel senators amid uproar over Trump-Russia ties MORE (R-N.C.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPruitt confirmation sets stage for Trump EPA assault Pruitt sworn in as EPA chief EPA breaks Twitter silence to congratulate new head MORE (D-W.Va.) rolled out their own bill on the matter Wednesday, as did Rep. Sam JohnsonSam JohnsonPhysician-owned hospitals: Competition that drives quality GOP bill would gut EPA Congress can finally reform Social Security. In fact, there's no choice. MORE (Texas), a senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.
The $2.8 million in performance awards, given to some 2,800 employees between October 2010 and December 2012, represent just a fraction of the IRS budget in those years. Of those 2,800 employees, 1,100 with tax issues received roughly $1.1 million. Employees receiving performance awards were also granted extra time off.
But the report also came after IRS Commissioner John Koskinen angered lawmakers, especially Republicans, by awarding more than $60 million in bonuses, just months after the agency apologized for its treatment of conservative groups.
Koskinen’s predecessor, Danny Werfel, had sought to block the awards, which included some of the bonuses eventually given to staffers delinquent on their taxes.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS, said the newest bonus issue was just another strike against an agency also criticized last year for spending on conferences and producing a video knockoff of “Star Trek.”
“They’re not going to get a whole lot more money if that’s the way they’re spending the money now,” said Crenshaw. “You better spend the money you’ve got wisely before you ask for more money.”
House Republicans sought deep cuts to the IRS budget least year, while Koskinen and the Obama administration say it’s counterproductive to slash funds for the government’s revenue collector.
Koskinen, appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, stressed that ensuring employees with conduct issues don’t get bonuses would be a priority as the agency negotiates a new contract with the Treasury employees union.
Under current law, a federal employee’s conduct and reviews of their job performance are kept separate.
“My view is that employees understand they work for the IRS and are held to a higher standard,” Koskinen said. “People ought to be comfortable that if you work for the IRS and I’m chasing you for your taxes, I should pay mine.”
Lew, in a separate appearance this week, also said the current policy had to change. He didn’t completely rule out seeking to recoup the bonuses already handed out.
Still, Koskinen and the NTEU also noted that IRS employees were far better than most at keeping up with their taxes, with the commissioner saying agency staffers have a roughly 99 percent compliance rate.
Colleen Kelley, NTEU’s president, added that the union would “work with the IRS on an appropriate plan” for linking performance awards with employee conduct.
Koskinen told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that he hoped lawmakers would allow his agency and the employees union to negotiate before enacting any legislation, saying he feared Congress would lump in staffers consciously not paying their taxes with staffers who might have legitimate issues.
“I think we don’t have any disagreement with the people who are trying to pass legislation,” Koskinen said. “If you have just an on-off switch, you’re likely to sweep in people you didn’t intend to. My hope would be people would see what we are able to negotiate with the union.”
Some congressional Democrats quickly got behind that stance. “I think we should give them a chance,” said Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinHouse bill would prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions Overnight Cybersecurity: White House does damage control on Flynn | Pressure builds for probe Will Cory Booker vote against America’s ambassador to Israel? MORE (D-Md.), a member of the Finance Committee.
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Hatch7 key players in the GOP's border tax fight Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show Overnight Tech: GOP chairman to propose high-skilled visa overhaul | Zuckerberg's 5,700 word letter | Tech lobbies gear up ahead of internet fight MORE (Utah), the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said he didn’t see a way for the government to claw the bonuses back.
“I always hope that the IRS commissioner can work these things out with the unions, Hatch said. “I think the unions are very difficult to deal with.”