IRS workers spent 521,725 hours on union activities; cost taxpayers $23.5m

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Congress,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Labor unions,Taxes,Labor,Tea Party,IRS,House Ways and Means Committee,NTEU

The Treasury Department has revealed to the House Ways and Means Committee that Internal Revenue Service employees spent over 500,000 hours on union activities last year. They estimated the cost to taxpayers at $23.5 million in salary and benefits.

Officials told Secrets that the exact hours IRS members of the National Treasury Employees Union dedicated to labor activities was 521,725 in fiscal 2013, which ran from October 2012 to September 2013. That was slightly less than the 573,319 hours in fiscal 2012, according to the IRS, but the spending was significantly above that year's total of $16 million.

It was met with outrage from some in Congress who hit the agency for seeking more money, especially in light of the recent scandal involving the targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups.

“Many Americans would be shocked to learn that IRS employees are unionized,” House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, R-La., told Secrets.

“The IRS has wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and over a half a million employee hours for union activities. It is absurd the IRS has the audacity to habitually come to this committee asking for more money. The IRS should spend less time picking political favorites and provide service to hardworking American taxpayers,” Boustany added.

The agency came under fire last year when it was revealed that they had 201 workers, some earning $100,000 a year or more, dedicated to union activities.

Union work, or “official time,” is allowed under federal law, and the president of the Treasury-IRS union said that it is dedicated to workplace issues.

“Official time is a means of improving the workplace and work processes," said NTEU National President Colleen M. Kelley. "By statute, official time cannot be used for any purpose not directly related to the representation of bargaining unit employees in matters concerning conditions of employment, such as bargaining contracts or agreements. Official time cannot be used for internal union activities or for any political purpose. Official time is subject to negotiation and is approved by management and is used, for example, when employees/union representatives participate with management in work groups to implement new workplace initiatives designed to enhance service to the public. In large part, the use of official time is a reflection of the size of the bargaining unit workforce in that agency," she added.

The IRS is a big agency. It has a $12 billion budget and about 73,000 union-covered employees.

In a statement, the IRS said: "Under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, employees representing an exclusive representative (in this case NTEU), are entitled to use official time to represent an agency's bargaining unit employees. Examples of representational activities would include negotiations, grievance meetings, formal discussions with management, third party appeals, etc."

In February, the Washington Examiner's Mark Flatten wrote a four-part series called "Too Big To Manage," on the practice of official time for federal employees.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.