Lawmakers Aim to Crack Down on IRS Bonuses, Tax-Delinquent Employees

Ways and Means clears package of four bills to hold IRS “accountable”

In the run-up to what one lawmaker called “the most unpopular week of the year,” the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved a batch of bills designed to make the Internal Revenue Service more “accountable.”

The four bills before tax week would crack down on executive bonuses, tax agency employees who are behind on their own tax payments and agency rehiring of former employees with misconduct issues, while also constraining the IRS in how it uses revenue from taxpayer fees.

Most Democrats opposed the measures, which cleared the panel by voice vote. “We didn’t see these bills until Friday,” said Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., characterizing them as an “effort to cripple the IRS.”

The IRS Bonuses Tied to Measurable Metrics Act (H.R. 4890), according to sponsor Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., would bring accountability to the bonus process “by requiring the IRS to complete a customer service strategy before paying out any more bonuses,” so that bonuses are “actually earned” through improvements in responsiveness to taxpayers.

The Ensuring Integrity in the IRS Workforce Act (H.R. 3724), according to sponsor Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., would do “what the IRS bureaucracy in Washington won’t – it stops the IRS from rehiring former employees  who had been fired for cause.”

The IRS Oversight While Eliminating Spending Act (H.R. 4885), according to sponsor Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., would give Congress the authority to determine how the IRS spends user fees under the reasoning that “taxpayers should at least have some way to ensure that these funds are being spent properly and go towards top priorities.”

The No Hires for the Delinquent IRS Act (H.R. 1206) according to sponsor (and noncommittee member) Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., would require the Treasury Secretary to certify that no IRS employees have serious delinquencies with respect to their own tax obligations.

In committee debate, Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., argued that the rate of delinquency in Congress and staff is four times that of the IRS and unsuccessfully sought an amendment that would add a provision targeting Congress under the same terms.

Opposition to all four bills came in a letter to the panel from Thomas Burger, executive director of the Professional Managers Association, which warned that budget cuts to the IRS have worsened many of the agency’s problems, some of which are already being addressed. 

“Banning bonuses across-the board for employees until the Secretary of the Treasury develops and implements a customer service strategy would unfairly penalize dedicated employees who tirelessly work provide American taxpayers with the best possible services despite inadequate resources,” he said. “Sound-bite legislation that only serves as campaign talking points will not improve services at the IRS. Congress should focus on properly funding the IRS so that employees have the tools and resources to successfully fulfill its mission and best serve taxpayers.”

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