Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has introduced several pieces of legislation that will rein in IRS corruption and incompetence. These bills will help improve IRS customer service and protect taxpayers’ private information. All members of Congress should support these important proposals.
Ensuring the IRS spends its time helping taxpayers, rather than spending it on partisan union activity
In order to ensure IRS employees do their job and help taxpayers during filing season, Senator Braun introduced the “IRS Customer Service Improvement Act.” Specifically, this bill would prohibit agency employees from engaging in taxpayer-funded union time during tax filing season, ensuring that agency employees are doing what they are paid to do.
Currently, IRS employees are given an immense amount of Taxpayer-Funded Union Time (TFUT). In fiscal year 2019, 1,421 Treasury employees consumed 353,820 hours of TFUT. The compensation costs for this time were $17.27 million. Further, individuals on TFUT may freely use government property, a cost amounting to $2.5 million.
This time and money could be better spent helping frustrated taxpayers file their taxes. Each year the IRS hangs up on millions of callers – a practice they refer to as “Courtesy Disconnects.” The Taxpayer Advocate Services (TAS) found that the IRS only answered 24 percent of the more than 100 million calls they received. Even worse, many of these answers are automated. Currently, if you call the IRS, you have a 1-in-50 chance of reaching a human being. For some perspective, 353,820 hours used on TFUT could have been used to answer over 1.6 million calls.
Holding IRS employees accountable when they release private taxpayer information
Senator Braun has also introduced the “Protect Taxpayer Privacy Act,” legislation that will hold IRS employees accountable by increasing the penalty for releasing private taxpayer information and making it easier for the IRS to terminate employees found responsible.
Specifically, this bill would ensure that IRS employees are held accountable when there is substantial evidence that they engaged in illegal activity. Currently, there is an exceedingly high standard of proof required to discipline employees which ensures bad actors can keep their jobs or escape punishment.
The IRS has a long history of leaks, corruption, and misuse of taxpayer data. Most recently, a vast trove of affluent Americans’ tax information was leaked to ProPublica. Last year, President Trump’s tax returns were leaked. During the Obama administration, there were several cases where agency officials leaked the sensitive information contained on Schedule B forms for political purposes, such as leaking of the schedule B belonging to the National Organization for Marriage.
Senator Braun’s bill will help ensure there is accountability for future unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer data. For instance, his bill increases the penalty for leaking private information from $5,000 to $250,000. It also reduces the burden of proof necessary to fire an employee accused of releasing this information. The new requirement to prove wrongdoing would be having “substantial evidence,” rather than a “preponderance of evidence.”
The current standard also requires that the agency prove that the employee most likely deserved termination. Under Sen. Braun’s bill, the agency would only need to prove that “a reasonable person could conclude the employee merited removal.”
Protecting non-profit organizations from political targeting
Senator Braun, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has introduced the “Don’t Weaponize the IRS Act.” This legislation, which has the support of 48 Senate Republicans, codifies important protections for non-profit organizations irrespective of their political affiliation so that the IRS has one less tool to harass Americans that are exercising their first amendment rights.
Democrats have pushed to repeal these protections, providing the Biden administration with ammunition to attack conservative organizations, the same way they were attacked under the Obama administration.
Specifically, this bill would codify the final Rule issued by the Trump administration protecting tax-exempt organizations from unnecessary filing requirements. The Trump Rule ensured that many tax-exempt entities including 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s do not have to provide the IRS with a list of donors. This list is not used by the IRS for any official purpose. Instead, it creates needless compliance costs on both non-profits and the IRS. Last year, when the Rule was finalized, the Institute for Free Speech estimated that nonprofits would save about $63 million per year compliance costs if Schedule B were fully repealed.
If Democrats repeal this protection, it will create a new way for the IRS to harass organizations based on their political beliefs.
Contrary to opponents’ claims, these protections do not limit transparency. In fact, the same information is still available to the public as before. There are already measures in place to track foreign donations. Even in the unlikely case that the IRS did suspect laws were being broken, it has no authority to share the information it collects with the FCC and the DOJ, the two agencies with the ability to enforce campaign finance laws.
Senator Braun’s collection of reforms are important steps in ensuring that the IRS becomes more service-focused, can handle and stamp out corruption more simply, and is not given tools that only prove detrimental to the privacy of taxpayers. Lawmakers should support these three bills.