Roger’s Rules

Deunionize the IRS


Here’s a headline from Forbes that caught my eye: 

IRS Employees Union Is ‘Very Concerned’ About Being Required To Enroll In Obamacare’s Health Insurance Exchange

You can’t blame ’em. Workers in the private sector are also “very concerned” about getting dumped into Obamacare’s subsidized insurance exchanges as, one by one, employers are forced to give up providing health insurance for their employees.

It’s possible that, like me, you are entertaining an un-Christian feeling of Schadenfreude about this happening to a large, widely loathed, and deeply politicized government agency.

But thing thing that should really arrest your attention about this headline, and the story it introduces, is contained in the first three words: “IRS Employees Union.”

The government’s tax collecting agency is unionized?  Think about that for a moment.

The union in question is the National Treasury Employees Union. According to the web site of the NTEU, the mission of the union is “to organize federal employees to work together to ensure that every federal employee is treated with dignity and respect.” That’s a tall order, in part because there are so very many federal employees. The NTEU’s web site includes a nifty interactive graphic that shows you just how many there are in each state: 279,622 in Texas, for example, 350,544 in California, 165,943 in New York, etc., etc. There are, in short, millions of them.

And what political party do you suppose they support? In the 2012 election cycle, 94% of its PAC contributions went to Democrats, 4% to Republicans. That’s only one year, of course. How about 2010? That year 98% of its contributions went to Democrats, 2% went to Republicans. 2008 was a bit more balanced: that year only 96% went to Democrats. As Andrew Stiles pointed out at National Review, the NTEU is a “powerful, deeply partisan union whose boss has publicly disparaged the Tea Party and criticized the Republican party for having ties to it.”

As the example of Lois “I’ll-take-the-Fifth” Lerner suggests, employees at the IRS support Democrat candidates by a huge margin. “The agency’s employees are heavily engaged in politics and lean considerably to the left,” Stiles reports. “Records show that IRS employees in 2012 donated more than twice as much to the Obama as to the Romney campaign. Nearly two-thirds of all employee contributions over the last three elections cycles have gone to Democrats.”

There are some critics who, faced with the overwhelming evidence of partisan corruption at the IRS, advocate abolishing the agency. That is a happy thought, but probably utopian. A possibly more achievable goal would be to deunionize the IRS, a first step in a process that should aim at deunionizing all federal agencies. Public-sector unions, as Daniel DiSalvo has pointed out in Government Unions and the Bankrupting of America, are a prescription for political corruption. The unions help elect politicians who in turn help the unions. The result is corruption and fiscal incontinence.

We may take government unions for granted as an inconvenient fact of life. But there is nothing inevitable about them. As DiSalvo notes:

That powerful government unions exist at all is a striking political development.  The prevailing attitude among policymakers across the political spectrum was downright hostile well into the 1950s.  President Franklin Roosevelt, one of labor’s best friends, wrote in 1937 that: “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government. . . . The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” Other champions of organized labor thought the same way.  The first president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, believed it was “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”  Their reasoning was that the elected representatives of the people would be forced to share their governing authority with unelected union officials whom voters could not hold accountable.

As the public watches IRS officials, from Commissioner John Koskinen on down, prevaricate, stonewall, and lie to Congress, a groundswell of outrage and disgust is rising.  Doubtless the IRS,  its union, and the Obama administration hopes that if it can only string out the hearings long enough, the outrage will falter and the disgust will die down.  That is certainly possible.

Another possibility is that the outrage and disgust will continue to grow and an impatient public will demand reform.  Deunionizing the IRS would be a good place to start.