House leaders used Wednesday's tax filing deadline to pass a
package of bills designed to protect taxpayers from potential abuse by the IRS,
a response to recent scandals at the agency. One bill would prevent IRS
employees from using personal email accounts for official business. One would
enact a taxpayers' bill of rights, and another would require the tax agency to
fire employees caught targeting individuals or groups based on their politics.
In all, the House passed eight bills and sent them to the
Senate. Seven were passed without recorded votes, with no opposition. The other
bill was passed by a vote of 424-0. It would require federal contractors to
certify that they don't have a "seriously delinquent tax debt." House
Republicans said the bills were part of their efforts to "rein in the
In 2013, the IRS acknowledged that agents had improperly
singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for
tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. An inspector general's
report cited poor management in allowing it to happen, and the Justice
Department and several committees in Congress launched investigations.
Much of the agency's leadership has since been replaced,
including the commissioner. None of the investigations has publicly produced
evidence that people outside the IRS directed the targeting of conservative
groups or knew about it.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the IRS has already
addressed many of the issues raised by the bills. House Democrats blocked a
bill that would prohibit federal workers from having a "seriously
delinquent tax debt." Federal workers and retirees owed more than $3.5
billion in unpaid taxes last year, according to IRS statistics. However, the delinquency
rate was 3.1 percent, well below the rate for the general public, which was
about 8 percent.
The vote on the bill was 266-160 in favor. However,
Republican leaders took up the bill under a procedure that requires a
two-thirds majority to pass, and it fell short. The procedure is usually
reserved for noncontroversial bills.
The bill concerning personal email accounts came from a Ways
and Means investigation that found several IRS workers had sent confidential
taxpayer information to personal email accounts. Among them was former IRS
official Lois Lerner, a central figure in the committee's investigation. IRS
policy already prohibits workers from using a personal email account to
transmit confidential taxpayer information. The bill would make the policy law.
The use of personal email accounts by government officials
became a hot issue after it was disclosed that Democratic presidential candidate
Hillary Rodham Clinton used one to conduct government business while she was
secretary of state. Clinton has turned over thousands of emails to the State
Department, which is reviewing them before it makes them public.
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