Congress questions bonuses for disciplined IRS workers

Outraged by a Treasury Department report which showed the IRS paid cash bonuses and gave extra time off to more than 2,800 tax agency workers who had been cited for internal misconduct, lawmakers in both parties demanded answers and changes in how the IRS hands out employee performance awards in the future.

"This is completely unacceptable and must be remedied immediately," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who fired off a stern letter to the new IRS Commissioner on Wednesday.

"No federal agency should reward tax-delinquent employees with taxpayer-funded bonuses and rewards, least of all the IRS," Manchin wrote, as he started off with the simple phrase, "I am appalled."

It was a common theme, as lawmakers once again turned their fire on an embattled IRS.

"The IRS continues to protect and reward illegal behavior by its employees," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).

"The IRS continues to violate the trust of the American people," said Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).

Maybe the part of this story that aggravated lawmakers the most was that some IRS workers not only were delinquent on their federal taxes, but some had clearly tried to evade taxes by underreporting their income or tax liabilities.

"There's a simple solution," said Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX). "If an IRS employee hasn't paid their taxes, they're not eligible for a bonus."

You could almost sense the frustration as lawmakers chimed in on Twitter from back in their home districts.

"Insanity," said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ).

"Total absurdity," added Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

"Unacceptable," said Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX).

"Disturbing," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

"Unreal," observed Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL).

As for what should be done, one Senator suggested that Congress bar any federal agency from giving bonuses to employees who are delinquent on their taxes.

"Each employee’s cash bonus should be held in escrow by the IRS until his or her outstanding tax compliance problems are addressed," said Manchin.

This latest IRS story was just one in a string of public relations setbacks for the tax agency over the last year, as officials have struggled to deal with questions about expensive conferences, huge travel bills run up by certain IRS executives, the Tea Party targeting scandal, and more.

As for why any federal workers could get a bonus after a recent misconduct finding, an IRS letter to Congress from just a few weeks ago - April 2 - made clear that it was okay.

"The fact that an employee has been the subject of a disciplinary action during the rating period does not preclude a performance award," wrote IRS chief John Koskinen, who has defended his decision to pay bonuses to large numbers of IRS employees.

"For all employees, we consider the protection of the IRS's integrity when determining who will receive performance awards," Koskinen added.

Lawmakers might find that line a bit tough to swallow, as once again, the integrity of the IRS has been called into question by an internal report.