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Bill Targets Federal Employees' Bonuses – Yet Again

Senator wants to stop rewards for those who damage the integrity of the federal government.

For years, lawmakers have looked for ways to decrease monetary bonuses for federal employees.

To date, their efforts have borne little fruit. That does not mean they are going to stop trying, however.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has introduced the Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act, which would prohibit agencies from giving any bonuses to employees delinquent on their taxes. Roberts said agencies that reward employees who fail to pay their debts to the government -- especially those who work at the Internal Revenue Service -- “call into question the integrity” of the bureaucracy.

“Any employee who deliberately ignores the process and procedures for fulfilling their tax obligations like every other American must be held accountable,” Roberts said on the Senate floor Thursday. “This is a basic principle upon which I believe we can all agree.”

According to an IRS report, 107,658 federal civilian employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid federal income taxes in 2011 -- a delinquency rate of 3.6 percent of the total civilian workforce. That is less than half the tax delinquency rate of the general public, which is 8.2 percent.

A more recent report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found the IRS gave $1.1 million in bonuses to employees who did not pay or underreported their taxes.

“While in the grand scheme of federal finances this is a very small amount,” Roberts said, “it’s tremendously galling and sends a terrible message to taxpayers to know that many of these employees were awarded bonuses.”

The bill would task agencies with determining if any new hires held tax debts, and enable managers to search public records to ensure no liens have been filed against their workers. The bill would provide exemptions for employees with an established payment plan or those facing financial hardships, if the employing agency determined the employee’s continued service is “in the best interests of the United States.” The Office of Personnel Management would report annually on the number of exemptions agencies elect to make.

Lawmakers have targeted tax delinquent federal employees with similar ferocity as they have attempted to limit the amount agencies spend on bonuses, and have similarly come up short. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has introduced multiple times a measure to fire all federal workers with tax debts, and to ensure new delinquents do not get hired. While those measures have yet to reach the president’s desk, he has promised to use his new role as House Oversight and Government Reform chairman to finally get the bill through Congress. 

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

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