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Senator rebukes IRS over decision to reinstate 2013 employee bonuses

The IRS' announcement Monday that it will pay cancelled 2013 bonuses has infuriated Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who wants to know why an agency with employees who “inappropriately” targeted conservative political groups would reinstate the rewards.

“The IRS is accused of targeting conservative groups, with many of its employees having conducted themselves in a manner inappropriate for government officials, and the agency decides to reinstate employee bonuses?” asked Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. “This is outrageous.”

The announcement was made by new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who said the performance bonuses were reinstated after agency employees repeatedly asked him about them during his first weeks on the job and after reaching a deal with the Union for Federal Employees.

The targeting scandal broke in spring 2013 when the agency revealed it had targeted for closer scrutiny Tea Party groups and other politically conservative organizations that were applying for tax-exempt status.

The revelations resulted in an inspector general report as well as FBI and congressional investigations. Though agency officials said originally the targeting was limited to a Cincinnati, Ohio field office, the probes revealed that higher-ranking officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters knew about the situation and that liberal groups also were targeted but to a lesser extent.

President Obama in May 2013 asked for the resignation of acting Commissioner Steven Miller. And Lois Lerner, the agency’s director of Exempt Organizations, resigned in Sept. 2013 after refusing to testify before Congress several months earlier.

“It’s hard to think of a group of people less deserving of bonuses than IRS employees,” Hatch said. “I understand that not every IRS worker was responsible, but this just is the wrong signal to send the American people who were rightly outraged by how this agency treated people for their political views.”

Koskinen said last year was an “extremely challenging budget year” because of sequestration so “a tough decision had to be made last summer to eliminate the bonuses.”

He also said that in light of the agency’s “continuing dire budget situation” the award payouts will be about 1 percent, less than the 1.75 percent provided in previous years.