Lawmakers look to change perception that "anything goes at the top tiers of the federal bureaucracy."
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the author of a 2014 law easing the firing of senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, has said he hoped his measure would serve as a “template” for the rest of government.
After Republicans in Congress tried and failed last year to expand the increased firing authority across government, some now are attempting a piecemeal approach.
Sen. Richard Burr, with five of his Senate colleagues, introduced a bill last week to give the Internal Revenue Service commissioner new power to fire any Senior Executive Service employees who have “failed in their performance or committed misconduct.” The bill, the lawmakers said, is based on the VA provision signed into law by President Obama last year as part of a larger reform of the scandal-ridden agency.
IRS has been plagued by scandals of its own, most notably the targeting of conservative groups when applying shortcuts to determine eligibility for tax-exempt status. IRS has said the problem stemmed from poor management, leading the senators to give the agency’s chief “clear authority” to fire employees who “fail to meet the standards of conduct and performance we should demand of senior managers at federal agencies.”
“IRS employees must be held accountable for misconduct,” Burr said. “Under the current policy, high-ranking IRS officials can cheat on their taxes, lie to Congress, even threaten to audit people for personal gain -- all without risking their six figure government salaries. This misconduct is absolutely unacceptable and I am confident we will put a stop to it.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an original cosponsor on the bill, said the American people are frustrated with federal employees going unpunished.
“It sends the wrong message that anything goes at the top tiers of the federal bureaucracy,” Grassley said. “Sometimes, a personnel change is what it takes to begin turning things around.”
Miller and others have similarly said federal agencies must purge the bad apples from their rolls to change their cultures, but have complained VA has not fully taken advantage of its new authority. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee, which Miller chairs, will hold a hearing this week to examine the agency’s “continued and pervasive lack of accountability for corrupt and incompetent employees.”
Leaders from at least four federal agencies have asked Congress for more authority to fire employees, saying they were too hamstrung by red tape and federal worker protections to terminate poor performers and malfeasant individuals. Lawmakers said the IRS accountability measure would enable the firing of any SESer “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.”
Sen. Tim Scott, who also supported the bill, introduced legislation last month that would prohibit IRS workers from unionizing.
“For too long the American people have been told there was nothing the IRS commissioner could do to hold IRS employees who targeted conservative and religious organizations accountable for their actions,” Scott said of the firing bill. “That’s not good enough for the American people and that’s not good enough for me.”
(Image via Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com)