IRS can't give out $70 million in bonuses

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It seem strange that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, an agency with a reputation for enforcing the rules to the letter of the law, somehow finds it acceptable to ignore direct orders from the White House. Yet, it’s happening.

Earlier this year all federal agencies were ordered by President Obama administration to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts implemented as a result of the failure in Congress to come up with an agreement to reduce the federal budget. An across-the-board cut is not something any agency chief embraces, but it is they have an obligation to comply.

But the IRS — in a defiant act as petulant as running with scissors — was moving ahead with passing out $70 million to its employees late last week. It’s possible, if not likely, the IRS will reverse course under public pressure.

However, it is bewildering the IRS even considered handing out bonuses in the midst of the mandated spending cuts. The president said no. No — as in don’t do something — should not be a tough concept for IRS officials to grasp.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel questioning the decision after learning of the bonus plan.

The Office of Management and Budget handed out guidance on the issue after the government’s automatic spending cuts took effect in March, according to Grassley.

“Discretionary monetary awards should not be issued while sequestration is in place, unless issuance of such awards is legally required,” he said.

IRS officials contend their is a legal obligation, a contract with the National Treasury Employees Union.

Even if the IRS contract with the union does mandate bonuses, that’s not necessarily legally required to usurp orders from the executive branch of government. It’s a gray area that should be sorted out by lawyers and, perhaps, judges.

Grassley, however, sees little ambiguity. He said the union contract allows for changes to bonus awards in the event of budgetary shortfall.

“The IRS has to answer to the taxpayers,” Grassley wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “Is it conceding to the union on almost all of the bonus money in question? If so, what, if anything, did the IRS get in return?”

The IRS is not an agency that should be operating outside of the framework of the federal government. The IRS operates through the Treasury Department, which is run by the treasury secretary, who is a member of the president’s Cabinet.

IRS officials can’t make up the rules to suit the circumstances anymore than taxpayers can when their tax returned is questioned by IRS agents.

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