Keep in mind that this is in no way an isolated incident. Government agencies only take disciplinary measures against their “rogue” employees when too many people in the public find out about it. It enhances the public image of a government agency when they fire or suspend an employee for misconduct. It also gives the agency heads an opportunity to grandstand and talk about how they don’t tolerate such bad behavior. In truth, if they actually didn’t tolerate such bad behavior, we wouldn’t have much of a government left.
Nevertheless, it’s always ironic when we hear about government employees, particularly those who are tasked with investigating the misdeeds of other employees, are caught behaving just as badly as those they investigate.
The Washington Times reported on one such employee, Takisha Brown, who worked as a lawyer in the IRS’s ethics department, formally called the Office of Professional Responsibility. She was disbarred from practicing law and subsequently fired from her job at the IRS when it was publicized that she was guilty of misconduct that involved misappropriating money and lying about another case:
Ms. Brown had her licenses suspended and then was disbarred after misusing money she won for a client in an automobile accident case. Under terms of the deal, Ms. Brown was to use part of the settlement to pay the victim’s medical bills, but the lawyer withdrew the money herself and ignored repeated requests from the client’s physicians to make good on the bills, the appeals court said.
“The record amply supports the conclusions that Ms. Brown intentionally misappropriated funds and made false statements with reckless disregard for the truth,” the appeals court concluded in a 14-page order finalizing her disbarment.
Ms. Brown’s case drew the attention of Congress. Two senior members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the lawyer, in addition to facing disbarment, was accused of lying to the IRS inspector general over whether she left an investigative file on a party bus headed to Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ms. Brown, the lawmakers said, denied to investigators that she left the file on the bus but told co-workers she was confident that her boss would support her and she would escape any punishment even if auditors proved she did leave the file on the bus. Her boss was Karen L. Hawkins, the head of the ethics office, formally known as the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Ms. Hawkins, who has run the office overseeing the behavior of tax lawyers since 2009, has insisted in the past that misconduct is inexcusable even if it isn’t related to work.
“I expect nothing but absolute integrity out of both myself and my staff because I just don’t see how you can justify disciplining others for lack of integrity if you aren’t demonstrating integrity-plus on your own behalf,” she said in a hearing during a union grievance last year.
It’s true that employees in these positions need to be above board. But I don’t actually expect that to be the case in our current government, as Ms. Hawkins had said. Takisha Brown is not an exception to the rule, an isolated case. She represents the norm. She just happened to get found out by the public.
Like she had apparently bragged to others, she was expecting to get away with it. She thought her boss would cover for her. Under ordinary circumstances, she probably would have gotten away with it. But it had leaked out and necessitated the agency taking action to make it look like they care about their employees’ behavior.