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Lawmaker Demands Answers on a Highly-Paid, Do-Nothing IRS Employee

Attack is the latest in a string of criticisms about the use of “official time” for union business.

A key House Ways and Means Committee member is demanding that the Internal Revenue Commissioner answer for newly uncovered evidence of a highly paid do-nothing employee at the tax agency.

The attack is the latest in an ongoing critique by Republicans of the amounts of “official time” federal employees spend conducting union business.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the tax panel’s Oversight Subcommittee, in a Sept. 10 letter to John Koskinen described a Washington-based employee who spent a year earning a GS-14 salary ranging from $106,263 to $138,136, but performed no duties.

A newly uncovered email to colleagues from resigned IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner—the figure Republicans have placed at the center of the political targeting controversy—said she has “learned that [an] employee who is assigned to a special project has spent most of the last year doing nothing and reporting to her manager and on timesheets that she has been working on the project full-time,” according to Boustany’s letter. Lerner is quoted as lamenting her powerlessness to terminate the employee and is said to have lowered the employee’s performance rating to avoid crossing the union.

“I have ongoing concerns with the amount of time the IRS spends annually on National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) activity,” the chairman wrote, citing an IRS estimate that union activity in fiscal 2013 amounted to 500,000 work hours costing $20 million. Noting that Koskinen at a February hearing defended what is called “official time,” Boustany said, “This, at a time when the IRS claims it is unable to perform required duties as a result of it being understaffed and underfunded.”

He accused the NTEU of protecting “underperforming” IRS employees, saying, “No small business in America could keep its doors open if it paid employees for doing nothing.” Boustany requested that the IRS provide, by Sept. 23, information on the instances of employees being disciplined for falsely claiming to have worked since 2009, the employees’ job titles, punishment, union status and any involvement from the NTEU.

Asked to respond, NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley said her union “does not have a copy of the email mentioned in the media reports and is not aware of the particulars of the situation. However, nothing in our contract with the IRS prevents a manager from ensuring that employees are performing their duties. Rather, all of the investigations of the tax-exempt processing division have raised the issue of managerial problems at that IRS unit.”  

The IRS did not respond to inquiries before publication time.

The Office of Personnel Management website notes that “Section 7131 of title 5, United States Code, defines and authorizes official time for unions representing federal employees. Official time, broadly defined, is paid time off from assigned government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees. Labor and management are equally accountable to the taxpayer and have a shared responsibility to ensure that official time is authorized and used appropriately. To achieve greater accountability in this area, agencies report official time usage to OPM on an annual basis.”

(Image via bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock.com)

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