Greg Roseman, a Deputy Director at the Internal Revenue Service, didn’t make any friends on the Hill last month when he refused to testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing. It was the second time in recent memory that an Internal Revenue Service employee had invoked a Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Roseman follows hot on the heels of Lois Lerner’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment a month earlier in the wake of the IRS tax exempt scandal. Roseman, like Lerner, is still employed by the IRS. It’s important to note, however, that Roseman’s testimony was solicited as part of an ongoing investigation about his relationship with a contractor who won big dollar federal contracts. The testimony was not related to the tax exempt scandal – though the timing is close enough that it has cast a dark shadow over the already beleaguered agency.
Kelly Erb, as The Taxgirl, has published a blog speaking about the “Lerner Rule” which would handle federal employees testifying before a congressional hearing.The bill, H.R. 2458, has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The text of the bill is pretty short and to the point. It says:
SECTION 1. CAUSE FOR TERMINATION WHEN GRANTED IMMUNITY.
Any Federal employee who refuses to answer questions in a congressional hearing after being granted immunity shall be terminated from employment.
SEC. 2. CAUSE FOR TERMINATION WITHOUT WAIVER OF IMMUNITY.
Any Federal employee who, in a congressional hearing, refuses to answer questions specifically, directly, and narrowly relating to the official duties of such employee, without being required to waive immunity with respect to the use of answers or the fruits thereof in a criminal prosecution of such employee, shall be terminated from employment.
SEC. 3. FALSE TESTIMONY CAUSE FOR TERMINATION.
If three-fourths of the congressional body to whom the testimony was given finds that a Federal employee willfully or knowingly gave false testimony in a congressional hearing, then such employee shall be terminated from employment.
The Taxgirl seems to think this strips away constitutional rights from federal employees and this could then be extended to anyone. I am not sure of The Taxgirl’s background but most of my career I have been an “at will” employee, which basically means my employer could terminate me whenever they wanted. If they don’t like the way I answer a question, they can terminate me. If they don’t like the color shirt I wear, they can terminate me.
When I was an executive, reporting to a board of directors, if the board of directors felt my actions, activities, or answers were less than forthright I could be terminated. It was a foregone conclusion if it were found that I willfully or knowingly gave false information to the board I could be terminated. I could choose not to answer a question as long as I was willing to accept the possible consequences of doing that… being terminated.
The “Lerner Rule” does nothing more than make it explicit that a federal employee is expected to be held to the same standard, i.e., if your employer (the federal government, whether the legislative branch, executive branch, or legal branch), asks you a question about your work, work situation, or work related activities you can chose to answer, honestly and completely or risk being terminated for failing to do so. I really do not see that different from the rest of us. The “Lerner Law” is an employer/employee relationship. It is not the same as “Journalists, the New York Mets, plumbers” testifying before congress. Congress is not their employer.
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