In an attempt to save the economic livelihood of about 1,500 employees at the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Andover, MA service center who are facing the loss of their job this year, a group of six members of Congress has asked the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to ensure preference to Andover employees when hiring to fill TARP jobs and other economic oversight positions.
In a letter to TARP Special Inspector General Neil M. Barofsky, lawmakers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire—led by Massachusetts Reps. Stephen F. Lynch (D) and Niki Tsongas (D) as well as Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.)—cited the "current state of duress that our economy is experiencing" as their reason for continuing to oppose the shuttering of the Andover facility, as well as their promotion of hiring preferences for Andover employees.
"The creation and preservation of jobs within the federal government are paramount toward rebuilding and strengthening America's economy," the lawmakers' letter read. "Keeping America's workforce working is key to rebuilding our broken economy."
The leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) welcomed the letter, saying that while she believes the shutdown of Andover facility should be delayed and ultimately averted, she applauded the lawmakers for recognizing the quality of the Andover workforce.
"These lawmakers have shown great concern for the economic wellbeing of impacted employees at Andover and in their ability to help the U.S. Treasury Department achieve its overall mission," NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said.
Earlier this year, 15 senators and House members from Massachusetts and New Hampshire called on the IRS to delay, at least until 2012, its planned shutdown of paper tax return processing work at Andover and Fitchburg, MA in part related to projected increases in the number of tax returns filed electronically.
The lawmakers pointed out, however, that a Government Accountability Office report last year showed only 59 percent of returns were filed electronically, a number matching the level of a year before. "The IRS is nowhere near hitting its 80 percent projection of electronic filing," President Kelley said.
In their recent letter, congressional lawmakers were equally wary of the IRS's math. "While overall use of e-filing may be on the rise, it is clear that the number of taxpayers opting to use this type of return is not increasing as rapidly as the IRS had originally projected," the lawmakers wrote.
In March, in response to efforts by NTEU and congressional lawmakers, the IRS announced plans to create 200 new jobs this year in Andover. President Kelley praised the move as "a good start." Along with pressing for additional work at Andover, Kelley added that the union is actively working to put in place a variety of mitigation strategies for IRS employees at Andover, including early-out and buyout programs.
In the event the IRS moves ahead with its planned closing, it will be the fourth consolidation of a paper tax return processing center under the IRS's current restructuring effort, which was first announced in 2002. Paper tax return processing has already ceased at IRS facilities in Long Island, NY, Memphis, TN, and in Philadelphia, with another center in Atlanta slated to close in 2011.
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.