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The Next Big Problem at the IRS: Low Worker Morale
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is sworn in before testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs hearing, Wednesday, July 23, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington, investigating the IRS' targeting of conservative organizations. (AP Photo) AP Photo

The Next Big Problem at the IRS: Low Worker Morale

"When they… are subject to depositions and recorded interviews... it has a deleterious effect on morale."

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by Congress into the IRS targeting scandal are having the effect of lowering morale at the tax-collection agency.

Koskinen testified at a House subcommittee on Wednesday, and was asked by a Democrat how IRS workers were holding up under all the pressure from House Republicans seeking emails and other documents. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said a top IRS lawyer told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that pressure to respond to Congress's inquiries is putting a strain on workers, and Koskinen agreed.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, shown here being sworn into a hearing on the IRS's botched response to the targeting scandal, leads an agency that he says is riddled with morale problem. (AP Photo)

"When they… are subject to depositions and recorded interviews, it sends — these are all career people — it has a deleterious effect on morale because they thought they were actually doing what they were asked to do," Koskinen said.

Koskinen said many IRS employees are being pulled off of their regular duties to comply with congressional requests for documents, and said as much as 120,000 hours have been spent doing so. He said many people who haven't been deposed yet are often worried that they might get called to testify next.

"So for everybody else who's working on this project, they're now looking over their shoulder worrying about, am I going to get called up next," he said.

Later in the hearing, a House Republican rejected the complaint about low morale at the IRS, and said it's the fault of the IRS that Congress is crawling all over it.

"I really could not believe the colloquy that you had with one of our colleagues about the morale at the IRS," said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). "It takes a lot to stun me, but that stunned me.

"Here's a piece of advice I would give. If the folks like Lois Lerner and others would have spent more time working on… their caseload and less time targeting groups and less time trying to overturn Supreme Court decisions they didn't agree with, maybe morale would be better and maybe their backlogs would be less."

In another exchange with a Democrat, Koskinen noted that the IRS has been forced to handle the added workload of document production with reduced appropriations from Congress. Just last week, the House voted on legislation that would cut more than $1 billion from the IRS's auditing function, as punishment for the targeting scandal and the difficultly Congress has had extracting information out of the agency.

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