Lawmakers target misconduct at senior executive level

Holding federal executives accountable or setting a dangerous precedent — those are the claims currently being argued between lawmakers and advocates for senior federal officials about as new legislation would give expanded powers to the IRS commissioner.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the Internal Revenue Service Accountability Act of 2015  Dec. 2 to give the IRS commissioner “clear authority to fire employees who fail to meet the standards of conduct and performance we should demand of senior managers at federal agencies.”

“It’s extremely troubling that these problems have persisted for so long,” said Burr in a statement. “IRS employees must be held accountable for misconduct. Under the current policy, high ranking IRS officials can cheat on their taxes, lie to Congress, even threaten to audit people for personal gain — all without risking their six-figure government salaries.”

But Tim Dirks, interim president of the Senior Executives Association, said in a statement to Federal News Radio that the bill would “establish a very dangerous precedent.”

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“This legislation is just another attempt by the majority to politicize the IRS,” Dirks said. “As with a similar measure passed by Congress in 2014 — which made it easier to fire career SES at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs — this proposed legislation constitutes vast congressional overreach and flies in the face of basic fairness and due process that should be afforded to all career federal employees.”

Not only that, Dirks said, the legislation would make it more difficult to recruit and retain senior managers.

“Within the current federal system, there are a multitude of avenues to remove, demote or otherwise discipline employees involved in misconduct or poor performance at the Senior Executive level. SES workers are in fact the easiest group of federal workers to hold accountable due to the tools Congress has already provided for agencies,” Dirks said.

According to information provided by Burr’s office, senior executives could be disciplined for misconduct that includes: threatening to audit someone for personal gain, conducting a seizure without approval, assaulting, harassing or violating the civil rights of a taxpayer or a coworker, lying under oath, falsifying or destroying records, concealing information from Congress, under-reporting income and failing to file a tax return on time.

Providing authority, recouping dollars

The legislation is one of two recently introduced proposals that target senior executives who abuse their power.

On Dec. 1, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced a bill that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to recapture money spent on relocation expenses, if the secretary “deems it necessary.”

Miller’s legislation stems from recent allegations — and subsequent discipline — against two senior VA officials who used their authority for personal and financial gain. The two senior level employees, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, allegedly coerced two other directors to leave their positions when they were not interested in leaving, so their vacancies would be created for Rubens and Graves.

The IG named the women in a report issued Sept. 28, regarding an alleged relocation scandal that resulted in the government paying roughly $400,000 for them to relocate within the department. VA demoted Graves and Rubens; however, in a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, Miller said he was informed that the department could not pursue recouping of the money “due to a lack of legal authority.”

VA’s handling of this matter is akin to letting bank robbers off the hook with a mere slap on the wrist while allowing them to keep the stolen money,” Miller said in a statement. “If, as VA officials have claimed, the department truly lacks the legal authority to recoup the money Rubens and Graves benefited from as part of their scheme, we aim to fix that with this bill.”

The bill would let VA  send employees a notice of the recoupment and the opportunity for them to appeal the action to a third-party federal entity prior to the collection. The third-party’s decision would be final.

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