Internal Revenue Service employees urged callers to vote for President Obama, disparaged Republicans in conversations with taxpayers and wore pro-Obama swag at work during the 2012 election cycle, according to a federal ethics watchdog.
The Office of Special Counsel, which reviews whistleblower allegations, highlighted the three cases in an announcement on Wednesday. Federal law, specifically the Hatch Act, prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan campaign activities.
The announcement came the same day the House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to refer former IRS official Lois Lerner for criminal prosecution for alleged actions related to the agency’s targeting of advocacy groups during the last two election cycles. Lerner’s attorney has repeatedly asserted that his client has done nothing wrong.
OSC said in its announcement that it filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board against an IRS customer-service worker who allegedly encouraged taxpayers to reelect Obama by “repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of [the president's] last name.”
“Given the seriousness of the allegations and the employee’s Hatch Act knowledge, OSC is seeking significant disciplinary action,” the watchdog agency said.
OSC said an IRS tax-advisory specialist in a separate case will serve a 14-day suspension for promoting partisan political views while assisting a taxpayer during the 2012 election season. The worker admitted to Hatch Act violations after a recorded conversation revealed she had shared anti-Republican opinions with a customer.
OSC quoted the employee saying: “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and … they’re trying to take women back 40 years.”
The employee added that her mother had always told her voting Republican would hurt the poor and make the rich more wealthy, saying she found the advice to be true, according to OSC.
In a third case, the watchdog agency issued “cautionary guidance” to an IRS taxpayer-assistance center in Dallas following allegations that workers wore pro-Obama stickers, buttons and clothing at their jobs and displayed similar screensavers on agency computers. OSC said the items were “commonplace around the office.”
Federal employees are not supposed to wear or display partisan items in the workplace, according to OSC.
The IRS said on Wednesday that it cannot comment on specific situations involving employees, but that the agency requires its employees to follow Hatch Act guidelines and other rules for political activity by 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.”
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