Another IRS scandal

In this April 13, 2014 file photo, the Internal Revenue Service Headquarters (IRS) building is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

Set aside for a moment the great “whodunit” at the Internal Revenue Service concerning its one-sided crackdown on conservative non-profits before the 2012 election, the prolonged failure of the agency to locate relevant documents for congressional probers and the 5th Amendment plea of top staffer Lois Lerner. That stonewalling has successfully kept the public in the dark about who was responsible for nearly two years.

And set aside the fact that it took more than two years for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to get the IRS to admit that an employee leaked confidential tax information to the group’s political opponents. Last year the agency finally agreed to pay NOM $50,000 because of the leak.

Here’s an up-to-date IRS scandal of its own right out in broad daylight.

The IRS engages a lot of temporary employees during tax season. And, says the agency’s inspector general, the IRS routinely rehires previous temporary employees with poor performance records. Not surprisingly, about one in five gets into trouble again.

The Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration, J. Russell George, said that an audit looking at a sample of rehired employees with known performance issues “identified hundreds of former employees who were hired with prior substantiated conduct or performance issues.”

Mr. George continued: “For example, 141 former employees with prior substantiated tax issues, including five who the IRS found had willfully failed to file their Federal tax returns, were hired. Other substantiated issues from previous IRS employment included unauthorized access to taxpayer information, leave abuse, falsification of official forms, unacceptable performance, misuse of IRS property, and off-duty misconduct.”

Failure to pay taxes is not a bar to employment, according to IRS, which claims to follow federal rules in its hiring practices. Nor is peeking at private tax information.

The IG rightly disagrees. “Rehiring prior employees with known conduct and performance issues presents increased risk to the IRS and taxpayers,” he said in his report.

There is clearly something wrong with the IRS hiring rules. Fairness and credibility demand the highest professional standards for all tax agency employees.