Every parent knows it’s important for children to learn that their actions have consequences. We teach our kids there is a price to pay for misbehaving or willfully breaking the rules, whether it’s a timeout for playing catch indoors or a grounding for breaking curfew. These experiences are about much more than the infraction itself. They are about instilling in children the sense of responsibility they will need someday as adults living in the “real world.”
Unless, of course, they grow up to work at the Internal Revenue Service, where employees continue to face little or no consequences for egregious misconduct.
In 2014, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, published an audit report concluding that the IRS had rehired hundreds of former employees with prior performance or misconduct issues between January 2010 and March 2013. These employees had been previously terminated from the IRS or suspended while the agency conducted investigations. One individual whose file was literally stamped with the words “DO NOT REHIRE” in all caps was even mistakenly hired again.
Despite former Commissioner John Koskinen's assurances to the Senate Finance Committee in February 2016 that he had put an end to this practice, a follow-up audit completed by TIGTA in 2017 found that the agency had continued to rehire former problem employees. To make matters worse, TIGTA found that the IRS “did not identify any changes in the [hiring] process that would have prevented the IRS from rehiring” an employee with “DO NOT REHIRE” stamped on his or her personnel file. This is the definition of irresponsibility and, incredibly, the IRS has still refused to implement changes to the hiring process, despite legislation that prohibits the agency from rehiring such employees.
It is notoriously difficult to terminate senior federal government executives. Just ask Lois Lerner, who targeted Americans for their political beliefs, or the hundreds of employees who were found to have willfully cheated on their taxes and were actually given awards, promotions, increased pay or extra time off. These kinds of practices must stop now. This is not the way to run a government agency that is vested with such immense power, and it is clear that the IRS does not have the trust of the American people.
This is why we have introduced two bills that would help bring needed accountability to the IRS to ensure that bad behavior isn’t just met with a slap on the wrist.
The IRS Accountability Act of 2018 would give the IRS commissioner clear authority to fire senior career officials for misconduct or poor performance. These offenses include threatening to audit someone for personal gain, conducting a seizure without approval, assaulting, harassing or violating the civil rights of a taxpayer or a coworker, lying under oath, falsifying or destroying records, concealing information from Congress, underreporting income and failing to file a tax return on time. This legislation is based on a law Congress passed in 2014 with broad bipartisan support that gave the secretary of Veterans Affairs similar authority after the Department of Veterans Affairs had its own series of scandals that outraged the nation.
We have also introduced the Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act, to restrict the IRS commissioner from rehiring employees who were fired for substantiated conduct or performance issues. Common sense would suggest this wouldn’t happen, but the IRS has proven that it cannot be trusted to make these decisions without oversight.
The IRS has shown that too often it confuses the stick with the carrot, rewarding employees’ bad behavior with favorable outcomes. Ensuring that IRS employees are held accountable for their misdeeds shouldn’t be a controversial position. Our bills could help bring needed accountability to an agency that has a history of serious misconduct. If kids can learn that bad behavior has consequences, why can’t the IRS?
U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. U.S. Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.