Bill would require agencies to fire feds who invoke Fifth Amendment

A Republican lawmaker has proposed legislation that would require federal agencies to fire employees who refuse to answer questions from Congress.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), would also give congressional panels the authority to terminate employment “if three-fourths of the congressional body that heard the testimony finds that a federal worker willfully or knowingly gave false testimony during a hearing.”

“This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people,” Brooks told The Hill newspaper on Friday.

U.S. Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Lois Lerner waits to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). U.S. Director of Exempt Organizations for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Lois Lerner waits to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

The proposal comes in response to actions taken by Lois Lerner, the IRS official who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a House Oversight Committee hearing on the IRS targeting controversy.

“This is a statement which should not be made by federally appointed officials before a congressional hearing if they are faithfully carrying out the duties of their office,” Brooks told The Hill.

The IRS placed Lerner on paid administrative leave last month. She had directed the IRS division that deals with tax-exempt groups, the likes of which the agency subjected to inappropriate screening during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

Republicans called on Lerner to resign after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has said that acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel asked Lerner to leave her position and that she had refused, prompting the agency to place her on leave.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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Josh Hicks · June 21, 2013