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Coburn: Hundreds of IRS employees work full-time on labor union business

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The Internal Revenue Service spends millions of dollars a year for 200 employees who actually work full-time on labor-union business even as it furloughs employees and cuts taxpayer advice services under the budget sequester, Congress' chief waste watcher said in a new letter to the tax agency.

Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, joined Rep. Phil Gingrey, Georgia Republican, in a letter asking the IRS to stop paying those employees for work that doesn't benefit the taxpayer.

"While the IRS continues to request more funding to further close the more than 14.5 percent tax gap, especially under the current budget crunch and sequestration, it makes little sense to use taxpayer resources to pay for union work," the two lawmakers wrote in the letter dated June 27. "This kind of practice takes place only in the government — in the private sector, union work and staff are paid for by union dues."

Known as "official time," the arrangement allows federal employees to get paid by taxpayers even as they perform their union duties.

The lawmakers said more than 40 of the workers doing union business make six-figure salaries, and all told there were more than 200 IRS employees serving in 100 percent "official time capacity" from Jan. 20 through June 6, 2012.

The lawmakers sent their letter to acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, whom President Obama tapped to clean up at the agency after revelations that it inappropriately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status over the last two elections.

The IRS didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS agents, declined to comment.

Last month Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, placed a bulls-eye on public-employee labor unions, using a speech at the American Enterprise Institute to warn that they were distorting the federal budget by being able to lobby internally for benefits without regard for taxpayers' interests.

"On the federal level, the first thing we should do is stop the automatic transfer of union dues from employee salaries at the taxpayer's expense," he said. "If the unions want their dues, it should be incumbent on them, not us, to pay for it."

The IRS has been under fire not only for targeting conservative groups but also for reports of lavish spending on conferences, and for preparing to pay out $70 million in bonuses to employees, even though the Obama administration has told agencies to curtail bonuses in light of the sequesters.

Mr. Coburn and Mr. Gingrey are now asking the agency to release more information about employees who are working "official time" 100 percent of the time in the past 10 years.

They also ask whether the IRS has agreed to any current collective bargaining agreements that include language on "official time" and the number of new employees the agency will need to implement President Obama's health care overhaul.

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