House Republicans Blast IRS for Spending Millions on Union Activity

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. Charles Dharapak/AP

This story has been updated. 

In their ongoing barrage of criticisms of government abuse, House Republicans on Tuesday blasted the Internal Revenue Service for permitting employees to spend too much time on union work, while also faulting the pace at which IRS attorneys are responding to committee demands for millions of pages of documents related to the scandal in the Exempt Organizations division.

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, released portions of an IRS letter responding to his April request that the agency “document employees who leave their official duties to attend union training on the taxpayer’s dime.”

The agency said that in fiscal 2012, IRS employees used 573,319 hours on union activity – equivalent to 23,888 days. In fiscal 2013 through June, Boustany’s statement said, IRS employees devoted 399,772 hours to union activity – equivalent to 16,657 days. “Based on the average federal salary,” he wrote, “this represents $16 million in taxpayer-funded wages that went exclusively to union activity.” Finally, in fiscal 2012 and 2013, the IRS spent more than $1 million on travel expenses for union activity.

“It is ridiculous,” Boustany said, “that the IRS can come before Congress and request an additional $1 billion while dedicating millions of taxpayer dollars on union-related activities. Until the IRS shows it is using its budget to better serve taxpayers, it should not come to Congress asking for more.”

In rebuttal, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in an email to Government Executive, “Under the law, federal unions elected by employees have a legal obligation to represent workers in employment matters. The law further provides that union representatives may participate in labor-management related activities, including training, subject to negotiated agreements. Official time is for representational tasks and training only.”

Earlier in the week, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, teamed up with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to lambaste acting IRS chief Danny Werfel in a letter for the “systematic manner in which the IRS has attempted to delay, frustrate, impede, and obstruct the committee’s investigation,” into the exempt organizations debacle.

In “over two months since the committee’s first request for documents, the IRS has produced only a small fraction of responsive documents,” the lawmakers wrote. “Indeed, although the IRS initially identified over 64 million pages of documents as responsive to congressional oversight requests, the agency has produced to the committee only a total of about 12,000 pages, or a mere 0.019 percent of what was initially identified as responsive documents.” They added that the documents include “excessive redactions that go well beyond those necessary to protect confidential taxpayer information.”

They also faulted Werfel for failing to provide the committee a copy of the IRS’ internal review of what went wrong with the processing of tax-exempt applications.

In response, IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said that the agency is "aggressively responding to the numerous data requests we've received from Congress….We are doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the committees, and we strongly disagree with any suggestions to the contrary." 

Eldridge added that while the volume of raw data collected “is quite high, it is a misleading figure to use in order to determine the volume of material the IRS will ultimately produce.

"The vast majority of it is completely unrelated to the congressional investigations," she said in a statement. "Once the data is limited to the time period in question, and the issue in question, we expect the final tally of produced documents will be far lower -- in the neighborhood of 460,000 documents or fewer."

Some 70 IRS attorneys out of the 1,500 in the Chief Counsel’s Office are at work full-time on preparing the documents, the spokeswoman said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.