Charlotte, NC — With a massive backlog of unprocessed returns, staffing struggles and added work from extended pandemic programs, the IRS has warned taxpayers of impending delays in processing their returns.
There’s at least one simple way to help reduce these delays: stop paying IRS employees to work for their unions in lieu of doing the jobs they were hired to perform.
Each year, taxpayers are forced to pay thousands of federal employees for work they don’t actually do. This sounds crazy for private-sector workers, but for federal employees, it’s known as “official time,” or taxpayer-funded union time.
The Treasury Department, which houses the IRS, utilizes taxpayer-funded union time at twice the rate of the rest of the government (6.81 hours per Treasury employee vs. 2.97 across the federal government).
In 2016, Treasury employees spent 481,500 hours working for their union on taxpayers’ dime, costing taxpayers an estimated $22.4 million. (2016 is a better reference for current figures because executive orders from the Trump administration reduced official time, and President Joe Biden removed those limits).
Considering that federal employees work about 1,800 hours per year after paid holidays, vacation, and sick leave, that translates into 268 full-time Treasury employees who were not available to do the things they were hired to do — like process tax returns in a timely manner.
A legislative proposal to address this already exists. In June 2021, Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act to prohibit IRS employees from abandoning their posts to claim “official time” during the busy tax-filing season. This bill is just one of many proposals introduced by Braun and others to improve the integrity and effectiveness of the IRS.
Ensuring that IRS employees spend tax-filing season doing their jobs rather than working for their union is a common-sense step in the right direction.
There is nothing wrong with private-sector workers freely choosing to belong to unions and paying the fees to support those unions’ activities or volunteering their free time. But that is not what is happening here.
Taxpayers are not only footing the bill for public-sector union activities (unlike in the private sector, where workers’ dues support union activities), they lack a seat at the negotiation table (the way employers do in the private sector).
This is why President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned of the “insurmountable limitations” of public-sector unionization. As he pointed out, “The employer is the whole people [of the United States].” But without those people having a say in federal employee negotiations, federal unions can negotiate things that are neither efficient nor effective.
For example, the IRS employee’s union contract impedes the IRS’s ability to hire the best candidates for open jobs by sealing outside applicants’ information until internal candidates have been considered. According to Article 13 of the IRS-NTEU agreement, “Under no circumstances will the selecting official be permitted to review and/or consider external candidates prior to making a final determination regarding the selection or non-selection of [best qualified] internal candidates.”
Beyond the conflict of interests, Roosevelt would probably be appalled that the American people are now also forced to pay federal workers for the time they spend not performing their jobs and instead negotiating for policies that restrict Americans’ access to the federal services they are forced to pay for.
Ensuring that IRS employees spend tax-filing season doing their jobs rather than working for their union is just common sense.
Ultimately, public-sector unions should not exist, but so long as they do, public unions should be financed exclusively by the employees they serve, not the taxpayers against whom they negotiate.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rachel Greszler is a research fellow in economics at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
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