The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) has ruled that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can raise the educational standards of new revenue agents, according to the Washington Post. The FLRA is an independent agency charged with resolving disputes between agencies and unions.
IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said in a prepared statement, “To protect the public’s interest, American taxpayers deserve someone with the equivalent of a college accounting degree conducting IRS audits. These audits can involve the largest corporations and wealthiest individuals in America. Our auditors face the best talent money can buy. This decision flies in the face of our efforts to strengthen enforcement,” according to the IRS.
Everson finished, “If you accept the logic underlying the arbitrator’s decision – that the higher standard is not essential – we will be hard pressed to meet the challenges of increasingly complex schemes to hide income from IRS scrutiny. We will vigorously appeal this case,” according to the IRS statement.
The history of this case of changing minimum educational standards goes back to when the IRS proposed to increase the number of college-level credits required from 24 to 30, back in the mid-1990s, according to the Washington Post. Five areas of course study were also specified for study. New revenue agents would have been hired using the new eucation standards.
In announcing the new standards, the IRS said it would “grandfather in” their existing workforce, according to the Washington Post. The Service estimated at the time that 70 percent of their revenue agents met the higher standards.
In response to this action, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) maintained that the standards were arbitrary and violated the union contract. The arbitrator agreed with the union, seeing the new educational standards as unessential because the IRS grandfathered in existing agents. After the NTEU decision, the FLRA found that the arbitrator misinterpreted the law and threw out the contract violation also.
Each side has supporting arguments for their own perspective sides of the issue. Colleen M. Kelley, NTEU president, told the Washington Post, “We continue to believe that the five-course requirement has nothing to do with being a good revenue agent.” She maintains that these new stricter standards would only block experienced employees from advancing up the IRS career ladder.
Kelley says it would allow the IRS to do more hiring from the outside, according to the Washington Post. She is considering options for a further administrative review of the case while the IRS sees improved skills and quality of their revenue agents in these requirements. The enhanced skills will also allow the IRS to better focus on their enforcement efforts.
IRS revenue agents number about 11,700 currently and internal surveys indicate almost all agents have met the 30-hour educational standard. Additional agents were hired to this new standard, concurrent with the fiscal year 2005 budget, according to the IRS. The Occupational Outlook Quarterly states that these agents “search out and verify financial information, uncover and correct accounting errors and keep detailed records. But the extent and complexity of job responsibilities for these workers depend on their experience and ability.”