- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2017

Two top senators say the IRS may have been breaking federal law when it rehired tax cheats and other former workers who were let go under a cloud of suspicion.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming said in a letter Friday that it’s time to stiffen the laws, saying previous efforts to sort out the IRS fell short.

It’s the latest in a long-running effort to get the tax agency to clean up its hiring practices, after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a series of reports, found fraudsters, tax cheats and disruptive employees among those the agency brought back.

Indeed, some 10 percent of employees the IRS hired between January 2015 and March 2016 had left under the cloud of investigation, yet were brought back, the inspector general said in a July audit.

“The IRS has not taken steps to ensure the conduct or performance of former employees is adequately considered during the employment selection process,” the senators said in their letter.

The IRS didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment, though in the past the agency said it accepted “in principle” the complaints and would work to update its hiring practices.

The embattled agency has been fending off criticism from Congress for years, insisting it’s trying to improve its cybersecurity, its customer service and its ability to properly collect what the government is owed — all while claiming Capitol Hill has shortchanged its budget.

But the bad hiring decisions continue to tarnish the agency’s reputation.

According to the inspector general, hiring officials sometimes didn’t even know employees’ prior history and disciplinary problems at the IRS when they were rehired.

That came despite laws Congress passed demanding that the IRS “adequately consider an applicant’s prior conduct and performance” before rehiring that person.

In their letter Friday, Mr. Burr and Mr. Enzi asked the top lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee panel that oversees the IRS — Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons — to write even tougher restrictions into the 2018 spending bill, on which the Senate is working right now.

A spokesperson for Mr. Coons didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Ms. Capito said she would refrain from commenting while in the middle of bill-writing, but said the senator “strongly believes in accountability.”

The July audit found the IRS rehired one employee who had prior convictions for petty theft, drug possession and reckless driving. The IRS apparently mistook the employee for someone else with a similar name, and hired the person.

Only after the employee was sworn in and had completed some tasks did managers figure out their error. The person was paid for one day’s work.

Three rehired employees had “excessive” absence problems, with one taking off more than 270 hours without getting permission.

Another rehired employee was cited for unprofessional conduct after a “verbal altercation” with an IRS security guard. That previous run-in wasn’t considered when the person was brought back.

In the case of tax violations, the employees were rehired because their suspected offenses happened more than eight years prior, the audit said.

In addition to asking for new rules in the annual spending bills, Mr. Burr has written separate legislation that would bar the IRS from rehiring anyone who separated from the agency due to conduct or performance issues.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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