- - Monday, August 21, 2017

Would you hire someone who had falsified documents or been convicted of theft? Probably not. But then again, you’re not the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Yes, according to an inspector general’s report, the agency in charge of collecting your tax dollars and safeguarding your private information has rehired 213 employees guilty not only of the offenses mentioned above, but also of dodging taxes and of making unauthorized use of taxpayer information.

Not one or two, which would be bad enough. More than 200. Small wonder that lawmakers determined to clean up the agency have faced such an uphill battle.

“Given the substantial threat of identity theft and the magnitude of sensitive information that the IRS holds, hiring employees of high integrity is essential to maintaining public trust in tax administration and safeguarding taxpayer information,” the report says.

And yet between January 2015 and March 2016, the IRS saw nothing wrong with, for example, rehiring 86 employees who had left the agency “while under investigation for absences and leave, workplace disruption, or failure to follow instructions.”

And those are the lighter offenses. How do you feel about having your personal data in the hands of employees under investigation for unauthorized access of taxpayer information? These are the best people they can hire?

The agency’s record of targeting conservative groups during the Obama administration makes even more sense now. So does the fact that past studies have shown that, depending on who picks up when you call to ask tax questions, you can get different answers from different people.

This isn’t the first time the IRS has been criticized for doing this. Indeed, early in 2016, four Republican senators introduced a bill designed to keep the IRS from rehiring former employees with disciplinary records.

“Common sense would suggest that an employee who was fired for misconduct or poor performance shouldn’t be hired back, but the IRS’ outrageous and bewildering behavior continues to defy logic,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, Wyoming Republican.

Indeed it does. “People are policy,” as President Reagan used to say. In other words, you can’t expect any agency to behave better than the people who work in it. They, in effect, set the policy by their behavior, regardless of what is written down. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen doesn’t seem to realize that.

There are, of course, plenty of good people who work for the IRS. No one is claiming that every last one is a questionable rehire. But when you take on such a large number of employees with serious performance issues and other problems, it’s bound to have a negative effect on how your agency is run.

This would be a bad idea even if your agency enjoyed a good reputation. But we’re talking about the IRS here. It’s already a powerful agency that many Americans regard with a special kind of dread. Add in the way it’s been used as a political weapon over the years.

And now we find that our sensitive personal information may be in the hands of people who have shown they really can’t be trusted with it?

“I don’t know why President Trump hasn’t fired John Koskinen since there is more evidence the agency is mismanaged,” said Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative government watchdog group.

“Koskinen is a very typical Washington creature and is very at home in the swamp,” Mr. Flaherty added in an interview with Fred Lucas of the Daily Signal. “It’s a puzzle to me why Trump hasn’t acted.”

One thing is for sure: The IRS needs to do better. Much better. Not hiring people with major blemishes on their record would be a good place to start.

• Ed Feulner is founder of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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