This post originally published in 2013. I believe, that while some of the details have changed, the overall message still applies two-plus years later
The Internal Revenue Service is on course to hand out $70 million in bonuses even as the agency is mired in scandal. The IRS is still under fire for targeting conservative groups prior to the 2010 and 2012 elections. This latest news is sure to draw ire from Republicans in both the House and Senate – and rightly so.
During a time when the federal government should be looking for areas to trim – when private-sector bonuses have been cut – awarding $70 million in IRS bonuses is simply wrong. Furthermore, it seems to outright contradict a directive from the White House that all agencies should suspend bonuses because of budget shortfalls. Additionally, it was current acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel who wrote the directive when he was at the White House budget office.
The IRS, in addition to dealing with the backlash from targeting tea party groups, also has come under fire for lavish employee conferences enjoyed by some of the same employees who are now in line for the bonus money.
At the center of this current debate is the National Treasury Employees Union and its contract with the IRS. According to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the IRS intended to “reclaim” money that had been set aside for bonuses. For some reason, that intent was never followed through on and the IRS negotiated with the NTEU to pay “only” $70 million instead of the previously agreed upon $75 million.
In written comments, Grassley states:
“While the IRS may claim that these bonuses are legally required under the original bargaining unit agreement, that claim would allegedly be inaccurate. In fact, the original agreement allows for the re-appropriation of such award funding in the event of budgetary shortfall.”
It should be noted that the NTEU represents more than 150,000 employees from 30 different agencies, not just the IRS. As such, NTEU employees from other agencies fall under the previously mentioned White House directive, and they are complying. It may be that the other agencies do not have bonuses due at this time or are operating under different contracts with the NTEU. Still, at a time when public regard for the IRS is so low, the potential black eye for the agency could have been avoided.
This news, combined with the other recent items that shine a very public and very negative light upon the IRS, reflects poorly upon President Obama and his leadership of the agencies within the executive branch. The Republican Party, with midterm elections just around the corner, is sure to point this out on the campaign trail.
While President Obama is obviously safe, the GOP can make an argument that the turmoil within the IRS is another reason a Republican majority is needed in the Senate. With executive-branch oversight being one of the duties that Congress is tasked with, a GOP majority in both houses could force the president’s hand on overhauling the IRS.
It will bear watching to see if anything else comes out regarding the IRS and how it is run. It seems that just as one negative news story starts to die, another emerges. At some point, the administration will be unable to dig out from under the apparent wreck that the Internal Revenue Service is becoming.