Earlier this year, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen warned taxpayers that they would suffer delays and poor service from his agency during tax time. In doing so, he cited cuts to the IRS budget.
But as we noted at the time, this was a case of malingering and retaliation, not of real need at the IRS. The IRS had access to $500 million in fees that it could use to deliver needed services, but chose to use the money for a long list of other things.
One of those other things was bonuses for senior executives and nonunion managerial employees — a small line item, to be sure, but a rather incredible one to behold at an agency so publicly beset over widespread power-tripping and misconduct within its bureaucracy.
A few new details of the senior IRS bonus binge have finally come to light, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Tax Analysts. As the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reported Wednesday, the agency paid nearly $2 million in bonuses to these top employees between the time Koskinen took his post in late 2013 (amid the targeting scandal) and January 2015. During that period, 456 managerial employees received bonuses.
Over the last five years, 1,269 such employees have gotten bonuses and 351 attorneys have received retention incentives, with a total value of $6 million. One attorney, Deputy Chief Counsel for Operations Christopher Sterner, received $286,000 in performance and retention awards over those five years.
No, this is not a number that will break the bank on its own. It pales in comparison to the $62.5 million in total bonuses to all employees just in fiscal 2013. It is also much smaller than the $50 million that the IRS spent on 225 employee conferences in just the two years between 2010 and 2012, as well as the $23.5 million that came out of the agency budget for employee union activities.
Put those numbers together, and you’re pretty close to the same amount as the $134 million that the IRS deliberately cut out of its budget for customer service. The agency did this so that it could plead poverty and use a so-called “Washington Monument Strategy” to remind taxpayers that its budgets must always go up, never down — or else.
In any case, an agency caught in such egregious misconduct as the IRS seems like a strange one to be giving bonuses to top staff. Just this week, the IRS has also been dinged in an inspector general investigation for failing to fulfill lawful FOIA requests properly more than 12 percent of the time. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency failed to give taxpayers the information to which they were entitled in eight out of 65 cases studied.
In the nearly three years since the targeting scandal was revealed, it has become clear that it was just a symptom of a much deeper problem at the IRS — a culture that lacks accountability, rewards failure, and persecutes the innocent. Like the Department of Veterans Affairs, it needs a thorough housecleaning, not retention bonuses.