House passes ‘Stop Government Abuse Act’

August 1, 2013

House lawmakers voted Thursday to place significant limits on the pay and rights of employees of the U.S. government in response to the actions of senior officials at several federal agencies in recent years.

The bill, approved on a 239 to 176 vote, strings together three previously stand-alone measures that Republicans were unable to pass Wednesday as part of a series of votes on bills to address concerns with government management and spending. Republicans decided late Wednesday to merge the proposals into one bill, with plans to pass it Thursday under normal House rules.

The new bill, titled the "Stop Government Abuse Act," would allow federal agencies to place senior officials who are under serious investigation on unpaid leave. Currently, federal workers are given pay and benefits when placed on administrative leave.

The proposal was written after the IRS in May placed Lois Lerner, the director of the agency's tax-exempt organizations division, on administrative leave. She had admitted that IRS employees improperly scrutinized applications from dozens of organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Lawmakers also reacted angrily last year when Jeff Neely, a senior official at the General Services Administration, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into an expensive 2010 employee conference held in Las Vegas that he helped organize.

The bill also would give U.S. citizens the right to record telephone conversations with most federal employees, a proposal written in response to allegations about how IRS officials interacted with groups that were improperly scrutinized by the agency. The measure would also cap bonuses for senior career government officials at no more than 5 percent of their salaries through fiscal year 2015. Lerner and Neely had received performance bonuses in the years before they were placed on administrative leave.

Democratic lawmakers representing suburban counties around Washington, D.C. that are home to hundreds of thousands of current and former federal workers spent most of Thursday afternoon attacking Republicans for introducing the legislation.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said the rights of the government's rank-and-file employees "are being trampled on by this legislation." Connolly and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also criticized Republicans for displaying a large photo of Neely relaxing in a hot tub at the Las Vegas hotel that hosted the GSA conference.

Republican lawmakers later said they would no longer display the photo on the House floor.

Eager to call renewed attention to the troubled IRS and confusion about the implementation of Obamacare, Republican leaders have dubbed this “Stop Government Abuse Week” and have scheduled a series of votes on related bills.

The House will end the week Friday by voting on a measure sponsored by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) that would prohibit the IRS from implementing or enforcing any aspect of the 2010 health-care reform law. The vote will be the 40th attempt by House Republicans in recent years to repeal, defund or attempt to deconstruct the health law.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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