The IRS, despite being under fire for harassing conservative groups, has terminated fewer employees in 2013 than in any year since 2002.
Only 74 people, less than 0.1% of the complete IRS workforce, were fired for misconduct between September 30, 2012 and March 31, 2013, the least for that six-month period since the 62 who were fired in 2002. Between FY 2008 and 2012, firings dropped 46%, and the pace is slowing this year.
Former commissioner Mark W. Everson, who led the IRS from 2003 to 2007, explained that the IRS was too centered on employee satisfaction, saying, “In the last several years one of the overriding objectives was to make the IRS a better place to work. That, to some degree, gave rise to excessive spending on conferences and maybe changing disciplinary procedures.”
The IRS fired 838 people in 2008, 658 in 2011, and 450 in 2012. At its current rate, it will fire 304 people in 2013. The agency claimed the reason for the “recent and relatively small decrease in disciplinary actions” was that it had hired fewer employees in recent years.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, which complied the data on the firings for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, agreed, asserting, “Terminations are going down. That’s because hiring’s going down.” Stier protested that compared to other government agencies, the IRS was doing well; the IRS employs 4.5% of civilian executive-branch workers but was responsible for roughly 7.5% of firings between fiscal 2008 and 2012. The agency, referencing the IRS-specific violations that cause employees to be fired, protested, “IRS employees consistently have a higher tax compliance rate than the general population or most other government agencies.”
Not only are firings down at the IRS but also suspensions for misconduct; there were only 366 suspensions this year, the lowest since the comparable period in 2005. Only 160 employees accused of misconduct have resigned or retired in 2013, the lowest in 11 years.
The president of the National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelley, argued that the decline in firings and suspensions arose from the IRS workforce shrinking by 10,000 the last two years. The NTEU represents roughly 80,000 IRS employees at the IRS but does not include managers. Kelley said, “For frontline employees, IRS has a very strict, formal approach to disciplinary issues.”
Robert Tobias, who was president of the union representing IRS employees from 1983 to 1999 and now serves on the IRS Oversight Board, defended the agency, saying of the firing statistics, “They don’t tell you anything unless you were able to see whether there were other charges initiated and then not followed through.”
The two former commissioners of the IRS, Steven Miller and Douglas Shulman, would not comment.