Membership limits opposed
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has sent a letter to the director of the office of government ethics expressing her opposition to proposed rules that would limit federal employees' memberships professional associations.
"As proposed, these rules could have devastating effects on professional associations with federal employee members and on the federal government in general," Mikulski wrote in a Sept. 30 letter to Stephen Potts, director of the office of government ethics.
These rules, proposed July 23, would greatly restrict the ability of federal employees to participate as members or officers of professional associations.
They would prevent an employee from attending meetings during working hours without the approval of a superior and would prohibit the use of any government equipment, such as a telephone, during working hours on behalf of a professional association.
"Federal employees are professionals who need to be in contact with their peers both in and outside government . . . to keep their knowledge and skills up to date," she wrote. "Federal employee participation in associations furthers these objectives, and connects these associations with the federal government structure -- benefiting both the government and the private sector."
There is a need for the federal government to establish standards of ethical conduct for employees of the executive branch, she said, but this proposed approach "would do more harm than good."
In addition, "the rules are unclear and could cause confusion among both federal employees and the professional associations in which they are members," she said.
Finally, Mikulski suggested that the Oversight Committees of the House and Senate hold public hearings where they would review the proposed regulations.
"Without such review, I would strongly oppose the adoption of these rules at this time," she said in the letter.
Expanding IRS enforcement:
The Internal Revenue Service is about to expand its use of a "secret enforcement priority system," the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union said Monday.
"IRS managers putting heat on IRS employees to up their enforcement statistics could result in taxpayers getting burned," NTEU President Robert Tobias warned.
Tobias was referring to a planned expansion of the IRS Entity Program from one to eight areas of the country, which he said "harms the tax system, the tax collectors and the taxpayers."
Also known as "the Entity Program," it is a system the IRS uses to determine whose tax returns to investigate. The system is scheduled to begin in IRS districts in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Cleveland; Los Angeles; St. Louis; and Wilmington, Del., in November.
Last May, Tobias asked Treasury Department Inspector General Donald Kirkendall to investigate the Entity Program, which was then confined to the North Atlantic IRS region.
Tobias told the inspector general that the program's "weight" and "touch" systems are records kept on taxpayers' accounts that "have a significant, albeit unwritten, relationship to the speed with which enforcement action is taken against a taxpayer."
"Taxpayers do not know that these calculations exist, they do not know a system is built around them, and they do not know how to get access to and correct them," he said.
Tobias also said the program statistics are not sufficiently accurate to ensure fairness to taxpayers. Statistics are affected by the distance the revenue officers must travel from the IRS office to a taxpayer's home or work and other variables beyond the taxpayer's control.
NTEU contends this system violates employees' rights and may also violate the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
"The IRS says these are not enforcement statistics, but they look and smell like enforcement statistics to the people who must use them," Tobias said.
Philly employees may get raise:
Rep. Robert Borski, D-Pa., introduced legislation this week that would grant federal employees living in the Philadelphia metropolitan area the same pay increase that federal employees living in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles received earlier this year.
"It is simply unfair to exclude Philadelphia's federal employees from this much-needed pay raise," Borski said. "By almost every measure, Philadelphia is one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country."
Last year, Congress approved the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act to implement by 1994 a new geographically based pay system for federal workers. The new law gave the president the authority to grant an interim 8 percent raise for employees living in high cost-of-living areas.
However, the president granted raises only to those federal workers living in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.