IRS Help-Line Employee Suspended For Urging Callers to Reelect Obama in 2012
According to a news release on July 10, 2014 from the OSC (the U.S. Office of Special Council, the ethics watchdog agency), an IRS employee tasked with fielding taxpayer questions on the IRS help-line “acknowledged that he had used his authority and influence as an IRS customer service representative for a political purpose and did so while at work”.
The IRS worker agreed to a 100-day unpaid suspension for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from either running as candidates or soliciting contributions and promoting candidates for political office while they’re on duty and in a federal workplace. The settlement agreement resolves the formal Hatch Act complaint OSC filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board in April.
Hearing the news, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) blasted the IRS as “totally out of control.”
“This latest development exposes a culture that tolerates or even encourages politically motivated activities, contrary to the agency’s mission and purpose,” he said in a statement. “This is inexcusable. If the IRS wishes to preserve what little credibility it has with the American people, they will immediately terminate this employee and conduct a thorough internal review into this matter."
The Hatch Act of 1939, officially An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, is a United States federal law whose main provision prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials of that branch, from engaging in partisan political activity. The law was named for Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico. It was most recently amended in 2012.
The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is empowered to hear and decide complaints for corrective or disciplinary action when an agency is alleged to have committed a prohibited personnel practice. 5 U.S.C. §§ 1214, 1215. It is a prohibited personnel practice to (among other things) take an action in violation of the Merit System Principles. 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(12). In addition, Merit System Principles are mirrored in the list of prohibited personnel practices.
For example, Merit System Principle No. 9 provides that employees "should be protected against reprisal for the lawful disclosure" of waste, fraud, and abuse, while the list of prohibited personnel practices also prohibits reprisal for such disclosures.