Sen. John Thune
There are few, if any, federal agencies that elicit a more visceral reaction from the American people than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS wields an enormous amount of power – enough to topple businesses or crush families. When that power is used improperly or outside the scope of the law, it can have a devastating impact on everyone left in its wake. As a result of its egregious abuse of power, including the unfair targeting of conservative groups, the IRS is in desperate need of a top-to-bottom culture change that would help restore its credibility to a level that the American people both expect and deserve.
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the IRS, I recently had the opportunity to raise some of these concerns directly with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. My primary recommendation to the commissioner was to fully implement the provisions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act, a bill that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and I introduced earlier this year.
Our bill would create new protections for taxpayers, strengthen and update safeguards against abuse that are already on the books, and punish bad actors at the IRS. Specifically, the bill would significantly increase civil damages and criminal penalties for improperly using or accessing taxpayer information. Americans should not have to fear that politics could play a role in their confidential tax information being disclosed to an unauthorized third party, that they will be targeted based on their political beliefs, or that the IRS will not retain its employees’ emails, like we saw with Lois Lerner.
I also believe that IRS employees should be held to a higher standard, which is why I co-sponsored the No Bonuses for Tax Cheats Act, which says to hard-working Americans that the federal bureaucrats who collect their taxes have the same responsibility they do in fulfilling tax obligations. The bill would withhold bonuses and pay increases from IRS employees who are willfully cheating on their taxes or otherwise engaged in misconduct.
According to a 2014 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report, the IRS doled out nearly $3 million in bonuses and paid leave time to tax-delinquent IRS employees or employees who had documented cases of improper behavior. Rewarding such behavior defies logic, and I’m hopeful this common-sense legislation will become law.
The American people have every right to be skeptical of federal government agencies like the IRS because they haven’t given the American people any reason to think differently. That’s one of the biggest problems facing the federal government today – a lack of trust and credibility. We can do better. The American people deserve better. Passing common-sense bills like the Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act and the No Bonuses for Tax Cheats Act would be a big step in the right direction.