House passes bills to enhance IRS oversight

The House on Thursday passed legislation to increase oversight of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).


The bills were part of a series of IRS-related measures the House passed this week following Monday’s tax-filing deadline.


The Obama administration opposes both of Thursday’s bills, calling them unnecessary. But it stopped short of threatening a veto of either measure.


{mosads}One of the bills, passed easily by a vote of 345-78, would prevent the IRS from rehiring employees who had previously been fired for misconduct. 


Republicans said the bill is necessary in light of a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report that found the IRS, from 2010 to 2013, rehired hundreds of former staffers with significant performance or conduct issues.


Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), the author of the legislation, cited examples of the IRS rehiring employees who had been absent without leave for weeks at a time and accessed sensitive taxpayer information.


“IRS leadership has failed to acknowledge its mistakes or change its processes. Instead, they stuck their heads in the sand,” Noem said.


Democrats said Republicans should instead be focusing on legislation to stop U.S. companies from moving their addresses overseas for lower tax rates, transactions known as corporate “inversions.” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said the legislation could have been fast-tracked for quick passage instead of a more drawn-out debate on the House floor.


In a statement of administration policy, the Office of Management of Budget (OMB) said the IRS currently has processes in place to ensure it does not rehire former employees with significant performance issues.


“The bill as written could force the immediate termination of employees who had been terminated and rehired many years ago, even if their performance since rehiring has been blemish-free,” the OMB said.


The second bill, approved by a vote of 260-158, would prevent the IRS from paying employees bonuses until the agency implements a comprehensive customer service strategy.


Republicans said the bill is important because recent customer service offered by the IRS has been abysmal. 


According to the Government Accountability Office report, in fiscal 2015, only 38 percent of callers who sought live assistance from the IRS received it, and the average wait time was more than 30 minutes. 


“We’re asking very simply in the bill, do your job. And until you’ve done that job, which other agencies are very capable of doing, no bonuses get paid,” said Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), the bill’s author.


Democrats said the agency’s taxpayer service has suffered because the IRS is significantly underfunded. The tax agency’s funding level is more than $900 million below its 2010 level.


“Look, the reason the phones aren’t being answered is because the Republican majority has failed to answer to its responsibilities,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “The House Republicans are trying to pass the buck because they’re not providing the bucks necessary for adequate taxpayer services.”


The IRS received a $290 million funding increase for 2016, and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the funding boost led to significantly better customer service this year. Koskinen said Tuesday that the rate of taxpayer calls answered during the filing season was above 70 percent and that once seasonal employees depart, the average phone service level will be about 47 percent for the year.


The Obama administration said the IRS already has started executing a strategy to improve customer service. 


“The real constraint on the IRS’s ability to serve taxpayers effectively is severe underfunding, including for taxpayer services,” OMB said.


Thursday was the third day in a row that the House passed legislation targeting the IRS. On Tuesday, the chamber passed by voice vote a measure that would prohibit the IRS from using funds to target taxpayers for exercising First Amendment rights and a resolution that urges the agency to make paper copies of the tax-filing instruction book available for free. On Wednesday, the House passed bills that would restrict IRS hiring and spending, largely on party lines.

Tags Internal Revenue Service Joe Crowley Kristi Noem Taxation in the United States
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