(TIGTA) THIS IG NEEDS INVESTIGATING
J. Russell George has led a decent life and we are not going to suggest that he is anything other than a fine person. In fact, we will always remember him for what may his single most notable achievement in life, namely, dating Michelle Obama before “Barry” did. However, just as the First Lady reached a quick decision to move on from him, it is time that Treasury gave the same decision some thought and retired him from his job as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) where he is regularly either misleading the public or serving up reports that Congress ignores. For example, he recently issued a report announcing that among the thousands and thousands of employees IRS moves in and out of duty status each year as the tax work ebbs and flows, it returns to duty several who have had discipline or performance problems. (It is all over the media cheaply filling column inches or on air minutes for them.) That is a fair observation, but it was not fair to suggest that this is due solely to IRS mismanagement. Here is what this IG did not tell us that would have completed the story and put the blame where it belongs, which is not with IRS.
IRS uses over ten thousand seasonal employees to get the work done. They are furloughed when the workload is light and recalled when it builds up. They may work as little as a month a year or as much as almost twelve months. They are full-time, permanent, career and career-conditional employees for the most part who occupy primarily jobs at the GS-8 level and below. Most are probably GS-4’s. Most would also like to work throughout the year and are waiting to move up the performance rating scale to get converted to one of those positions with full benefits. And like most groups of employees anywhere some of them have performance or conduct problems.
J. Russell George has just proclaimed that IRS is wrong to recall to duty those who had performance or conduct problems. We would expect nothing less from a man who resides within the blinding ivory tower walls of an IG position. His job is to set stretch goals for the IRS. But before IRS runs off spending millions on unrealistic fantasies he should also reveal all the causes of a problem and ramifications of his suggested solution. Otherwise, he is engaging in what the MSPB calls a “Lack of Candor” offense—or at least that is the way we see it.
George blamed this “problem” on IRS management and nothing else. What he failed to do is explain that IRS recalls employees based on their performance rating starting with the highest rated ones and works its way down. Consequently, if someone is recalled who does not measure up to this IG’s vision it is only because 1- s/he is better at the job than every other seasonal alternative on the list, or 2- there are no other seasonals willing to come back. So, IRS can either pay those who it did recall time and one-half salary to do the work on overtime that it needed the employees George would have it reject or it can just not get the work done, delay refunds, force Treasury to pay interest on those refunds, and ignite a public relations firestorm. George obviously does not get (or chooses to ignore) that for every action in life there is a consequence–or what the more scientific among us like to call “an equal and opposite reaction.”
George also skipped over another solution to what he declares to be a problem, namely, hiring new people to replace them. He merely sets up the naïve readers of his report, mainly the media, to assume that was a solution “dumb old IRS” failed to use. However, hiring new employees would have required IRS to spend money testing and recruiting applicants, passing them through costly background investigations, training them, and then swallowing several weeks of less than acceptable performance as they actually built proficiency at the work—assuming the work even lasts several weeks. He also failed to mention that in any of these employees who had already passed their probationary period could not be skipped over for recall simply because General George thinks that would be best. The agency would have to take adverse actions against many of them to deny them further work. As we said, the General’s solution is a very, very costly one.
If George had bothered, he could have calculated the cost of bringing in a new employee to replace a fully trained, vetted, and experienced employee and measured it against the benefit. But he inexplicably chose not to. A likely reason for his omission was that he knew that the math would show IRS made the right decision. Another possible reason is that the math would have led the reader right back to the root cause of this and so many other problems in IRS, e.g., the current Congressional leadership is starving IRS of needed funding as part of its political and campaign strategies—as opposed its other rarely exercised role of running an efficient government.
Mr. George, if you are reading this, we want you to know that this February 5, 2015 was shoddy work, suggests you do not have enough to do, and that one of IRS’s biggest problems is that so much money is wasted from its budget funding your shop that literally billions in taxes are lost each year just to keep you working. Here is our math on that. The latest IRS annual report shows that for every $.41 it spends it brings in $100 of revenue (See Table 29). Your current budget for conducting audits like this is $58,190,000. If even half of that money was redirected to IRS it could generate another $7 billion in collections each year. That money could go toward building internet security, curing Alzheimer’s or autism, or even stopping illegal immigration. Instead, today, it goes into your sophomoric audits. We are not saying they are all classic examples of waste, but about half as this most recent piece of junk science is. You assigned seven people to work on producing a ten page report. If IRS did that you would be wailing about its waste.
Each of these “audits” or “reports” is more about them than the IRS. They write reports to keep themselves relevant as opposed to furthering the goals and mission of the IRS. I agree with your findings and applaud the article.