A federal ethics watchdog agency announced Wednesday that it will pursue disciplinary action against Internal Revenue Service employees who, while on the job, openly supported President Barack Obama during the 2012 election season. The Office of Special Counsel said those employees were in violation of federal laws, particularly the Hatch Act, which prohibit federal employees from engaging in campaign politics while working.
In one case, the ethics agency said it was seeking “significant disciplinary action” against an IRS customer service worker who encouraged taxpayers to re-elect the president by “repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of [the president's] last name.”
In another case, detailed in a Washington Post blog, the OSC secured a 14-day suspension for a tax-advisory specialist who promoted partisan political views. That worker admitted to Hatch Act violations upon being confronted with a recording of a conversation in which she shared anti-Republican opinions with a taxpayer.
“Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and … they’re trying to take women back 40 years,” the employee said in the recording.
In a third case, the agency will merely issue “cautionary guidance” to an entire IRS assistance center in Dallas. It is alleged that employees at that office wore pro-Obama stickers and buttons. They also displayed similarly supportive screen savers on IRS computers.
The IRS said it was unable to comment on specific cases but issued a statement saying that it requires employees to follow Hatch Act guidelines and other laws governing the political activity of federal workers.
“The IRS regularly reminds employees of the Hatch Act guidelines,” the statement said. “When the IRS receives allegations of violations of the Hatch Act, it follows all the proper procedures and protocols and refers the matter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.”
The announcement from the OSC came as Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted to refer former IRS official Lois Lerner for criminal prosecution. Lerner, it is alleged, was behind an IRS policy of targeting tea party groups for increased scrutinization of tax documents.
Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, was quoted in the Washington Times as saying he wasn’t surprised by the recent announcement.
“It’s no surprise that this is coming from the very same agency that targeted Americans based on their political beliefs,” he said. “How can the American people trust IRS employees to perform their job duties in good faith?”