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IRS employees cannot be fired

May 18, 2013 by

Never again.

That’s the vow President Barack Obama and congressional leaders are making in the wake of the IRS tea-party targeting sandal.

It’s a good talking point. Finding the fix that everyone can agree to is much harder.

Consider this: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp says the IRS is “too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive.” Obama, meanwhile, says the problem stems in part from “ambiguity” in the laws about the political activities the IRS is supposed to root out among nonprofits.

One thing is certain: Big changes are ahead at the IRS. Here are some fixes generating buzz among lawmakers and tax experts.


Republicans have fumed that — beyond high-level resignations — there has been little action to discipline IRS employees who singled out conservative groups.

Lawmakers might pass legislation to make sure there are big consequences for employees who engage in such targeting activities again — right up to throwing the workers in jail.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation this week that would give IRS employees who commit the so-called 10 deadly sins up to five years imprisonment.

The sins include seizing property or assets without permission from higher-ups; harassing taxpayers; willfully hiding information from a congressional inquiry; and destroying documents to conceal IRS mistakes.

The 1998 IRS overhaul — the last time the agency was significantly revamped — imposed consequences for engaging in such activities. But there was no threat of jail time and IRS bosses were given discretion to pardon employees, protecting them from being fired.

The classic Washington solution: An oversight board

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an alum of the 1998 reform, is toying with reviving an idea he had back in the day: a strong and fiercely independent IRS oversight board.

Portman and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) co-chaired a 17-person commission that essentially wrote the first draft of the 1998 overhaul. A top recommendation to Congress was to create an oversight entity that would have the power to appoint the IRS commissioner and oversee some hiring, firing and management issues.

(Also on POLITICO: Miller defiant as GOP attacks)

It was an attempt to depoliticize the IRS, safeguard it from White House pressures and ensure the public’s confidence in the long-maligned agency that collects their taxes.

But it was cut before the overhaul was enacted because the Clinton administration and Treasury Department were dead-set against the idea.

But now the notion of an in-your-face watchdog looks tempting again.

“Maybe now we ought to relook at that and think about how do you ensure the system works?” Portman said.

Kerrey said such a board would “create a lot of credibility” and act as “somebody that the public would trust to take a look at [IRS issues] and get the low-down — because no matter who the commissioner is, somebody’s going to suspect that they’re beholden to the president.”

via 5 fixes for the IRS – Rachael Bade –

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