It’s a sure bet that Americans aren’t inclined — especially right now — to pony up even more money to the Internal Revenue Service so the tax folks can buy themselves some public relations help.
Maybe the revenooers can use some of their bonus money, if they get it. Because if there’s an arm of the federal government in dire need of some positive PR right now, it’s the IRS.
It’s not as if the agency wasn’t already unpopular enough just because of what it does, and sometimes because of how it does it. Then came the revelations that the IRS was giving special scrutiny to conservative organizations with words like “tea party” and “patriot” in their names when those organizations applied for tax-exempt status. You don’t have to be politically conservative to be unnerved and outraged by the idea of a federal agency targeting people on the basis of ideology.
Then, to top it off (or so we thought at the time), we learned what party animals some of these tax folks are, living it up at public expense during lavish employee conferences.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Let’s hope this is: IRS employees reportedly are due some $70 million in bonuses under a union contract, while the rest of the government is dealing with automatic spending cuts under sequestration.
The Obama administration claims the authority to cancel discretionary bonuses, and in this case a powerful Republican wants the president to have that authority. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the IRS, and says an April directive from the White House suspending the bonuses should settle the matter. That directive specified that “discretionary monetary awards should not be issued while sequestration is in place, unless issuance of such awards is legally required.”
That’s where it gets fuzzy. Some IRS officials and the National Treasury Employees Union say the bonuses are not subject to the sequester, because they are a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreement.
But according to IRS spokesperson Michelle Eldridge, the bargaining process is not yet finished. And Grassley insists that the existing agreement “allows for the re-appropriation of such award funding in the event of budgetary shortfall.”
Nobody should have any doubt about where public sentiment falls on this one. Americans were outraged enough when corporate CEOs were giving themselves and their boardroom cronies massive salaries and bonuses even as they were asking for, and getting, multibillion-dollar corporate welfare at our expense.
But in the case of the IRS, this was our money to begin with.
Politicians have long been fond of saying government “should be run like a business.” Surely what’s going on at the IRS isn’t what they had in mind.