Union steps up campaign against outsourcing debt collection

Group is hoping to preserve language in the omnibus spending bill that would bar the IRS from hiring private collection agencies.

Tax collection may not be considered America's most glamorous profession, but hundreds of federal workers are descending on Capitol Hill this week to lobby for a chance to do the job.

Members of the National Treasury Employees Union will urge senators this week to preserve language in the House-passed fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that would stop the stream of federal funds to private tax collection agencies under Internal Revenue Service contracts.

The NTEU and its allies argue that private collectors deny troubled low-income taxpayers a range of payment options while pulling work away from government workers.

But the union will face opposition from Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who fears the demise of the fledgling debt collection program would cost his home state jobs. One of the IRS contractors is CBE Group of Waterloo, Iowa.

Grassley hopes to introduce an amendment that would strike the House language, which forbids the use of federally appropriated funds for the IRS contracting program, which began in 2006.

NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Tuesday that turning off the federal spigot would "effectively shut [the program] down" over time even if the IRS chooses to renew its contracts -- set to expire this week -- with the private agencies.

In a letter co-signed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, Grassley urged Treasury and IRS officials last week to allow the program time to work.

They argued that private agencies are more nimble at collecting debt than federal employees. Halting the private contracts, they added, would cost their home states almost 200 jobs.

The union's lobbying forces this week will also seek support for a fiscal 2010 pay raise for federal workers that matches the 2.9 percent the Obama administration proposed for military personnel. The administration's fiscal 2010 budget request seeks a 2 percent raise for civilian federal workers.