House passes bills to halt bonuses, increase transparency of feds

Friday - 8/2/2013, 11:46am EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

(This story was updated from its original version to reflect passage of the Stop Government Abuse Act.)

The House is cracking down on government waste and abuse, passing a slew of bills over the last few days aimed at improving government accountability.

On Thursday, the House approved the Stop Government Abuse Act (H.R. 2879) by a vote of 239-176.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) introduced the bill. It combines three other bills — the Common Sense Compensation Act (HR 1541), the Government Employee Accountability Act (HR 2579) and the Citizen Empowerment Act (HR 2711) — all of which originated in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The new bill limits federal bonuses during sequestration, outlines new requirements for Senior Executive Service members who are under investigation and put on leave, and lets citizens record conversations with federal employees.

The legislation is part of a broader initiative by House Republicans, coined "Stop Government Abuse Week," to move 10 separate bills through the chamber in their last week in session before the August recess begins.

"How a government employee interacts with you, the taxpayer, must be considered when it comes time to evaluate how well they do their job. We look forward to passing this agenda," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a video released July 26.

The House passed five bills Wednesday tied to the government waste and abuse initiative.

One of the bills passed, the Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013 (H.R. 313), would place caps on the amount of money that may be spent on government conferences and would require agencies to post information about conference spending on their websites. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) co-sponsored the bill.

"The point of this bill is not to eliminate federal conferences. If federal employees are on these conferences to work, then their expenses will reflect that. What we don't want to happen is the government paying for federal employees' vacations. Expenses like mind readers, clowns, line dancing lessons and a Star Trek video are not a good use of taxpayers' hard-earned money," said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who introduced the bill Jan. 18, in a press release.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced a similar bill, the Conference Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 1347) on July 23. That bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Coburn's bill would forbid agencies from sending more than 50 employees to international conferences without the approval of the Secretary of State. No agency would be permitted to spend more than $500,000 to support a single conference. Agencies also would be required to post travel information and expenses on the Web.

The STOP IRS Act (H.R. 2565), sponsored by Rep. James Renacci (R-Ohio), also passed the House Wednesday. If enacted, the bill would make it easier to terminate IRS employees who take certain actions for political purposes.

"There is currently a process in place to remove bad actors. There is currently a list of offenses that would subject an employee to that process. All I want to do is add political targeting to the list of fireable offenses," Renacci said on the House floor earlier this week.

The Stop Playing on Citizens' Cash Act (HR 2769), sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and introduced July 22, also passed the House Wednesday. If enacted, the bill would impose a moratorium on IRS conferences.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights Act of 2013 (H.R. 2768), also sponsored by Roskam and passed by the House, would require the IRS commissioner to ensure employees act in accord with specified taxpayer rights.

"From targeting individuals for their political or religious beliefs to wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, the IRS scandals tell a story of a bureaucracy out of control. In an era of big government, federal agencies like the IRS have grown larger, gained more power and have become unaccountable to the taxpayers they are supposed to serve," Roskam said in a press release.

Finally, the House also passed the Government Customer Service Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 1660), which aims at improving response times for government service requests across agencies.

Friday, the House will consider the Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act (H.R. 2009). If enacted, the legislation would forbid the IRS from enforcing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) introduced the bill in May.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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