Washington D.C. — If it is going to meet its workforce requirements in the face of potentially large looming retirements, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must do a much better job of addressing the needs of its employees, including a focus on their low morale caused, in part, by the agency’s efforts to contract out their work, the leader of the union representing IRS employees said today.
“The IRS cannot simply pay lip service to the critical question of how you recruit high-quality employees and retain the experienced, skilled and dedicated men and women it already has,” said President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
“Taxpayers need and expect a high level of service,” she said, “and the less meaningful attention the IRS gives to issues impacting employees, the less it will be able to meet those needs and expectations.”
President Kelley made these comments in the wake of a report from the independent IRS Oversight Board suggesting that the agency will lose through retirement some 4,000 IRS employees a year over the next four years.
The looming retirement crisis among federal agencies has been widely publicized for some time, Kelley noted, without apparent impact on the IRS which has let its workforce decline from about 112,000 in 1995 to a figure in the low 90,000 range in 2006.
Retention should be a key focus. “The IRS needs to give employees a reason not to go elsewhere,” Kelley said. “Employees should not be routinely denied the use of annual leave, family medical leave or alternative work schedules. These actions send a message to employees that they are not valued.”
One way to address the pressing recruitment and retention problems, she said, would be for the agency to curtail its efforts to contract out—among other activities—the inherently governmental function of collecting taxes.
NTEU has been the leader in the fight against the IRS’s much-criticized use of private sector debt collectors to pursue tax debts, despite the agency’s own analysis that it would be less expensive for its own employees to perform that work. The plan has generated strong congressional opposition, as well.
“The IRS doesn’t seem to understand that putting the jobs of present employees at risk even by threatening to contract out their work is a strong disincentive to recruitment,” she said. “That is the opposite of what it should be doing—which is investing in its workforce.”
Among other ways to deal with these kinds of problems, Kelley said, is for the agency to retrain employees whose jobs are at risk due to the declining need to process paper tax returns. And, of course, the IRS needs to seek adequate resources from Congress; both NTEU and the Oversight Board have criticized the failure of the agency even to ask for sufficient funding, particularly in recent years, she said.
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing some 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.