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.

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