Heads won't roll at the IRS

WASHINGTON (POLITICO) - Lawmakers pressing for more heads to roll at the Internal Revenue Service are going to be disappointed.

"Why weren't more people fired?" Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) demanded at a hearing Tuesday on the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, channeling the frustration of his colleagues.

Turns out it's not so easy.

In fact, it appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn't been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.

Here's a quick guide to what it would take to show IRS officials the door:

Fire them -- and brace for the appeals

The incoming acting IRS Commissioner, Daniel Werfel, could try to clean house -- but he'd have to be prepared for a lengthy appeals process.

Under federal rules, a fired government worker has the right to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. He or she can challenge the decision, argue that their actions don't meet the threshold for termination and ask to be reinstated -- especially if there was no warning of trouble in past performance reviews.

The board is set up so fired employees appealing their termination get two chances to prove they should stay. Their first stop is at the merit board's regional level, which -- for the Cincinnati-based IRS employees in question -- would be in Chicago.

The initial appeals take an average of 93 days to process, said William Spencer, a spokesman for the board.

If the regional board rules against the IRS employees, they could appeal to the national Washington, D.C.-based board, which takes on average another 245 days.

The IRS employees wouldn't collect a paycheck during the appeals process. They would get back pay only if they are ultimately reinstated.

Speed it up -- and try not to get reversed

There's also the option of getting the IRS employees out of the way more quickly -- at least temporarily -- by putting them on administrative leave.

But IRS workers could always fight back if they've had positive performance reviews until now -- and the board has been known to mitigate penalties if an employee is a first-time rule violator.

Ask them to resign

There's always another option: Even if the new IRS leadership doesn't want to go through the hassle of getting rid of people, it could always ask them to resign.

Outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, for example, could have hung on if he'd really wanted to. Just because he was filling in for a politically appointed position doesn't mean he can be fired by the president like political appointees typically can.

But when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew asked him to step down, he did. That could be an option if the administration wants to get rid of Lerner.

Hope they take a hint

There's also the chance that the IRS workers in Cincinnati could resign without being asked -- not because they have to but because they understand how awful their lives will be if they don't.

That's what happens in other cases in the federal workforce, although the statistics aren't available, Stier said. "If the line employees say, 'We're really in trouble here, we're going to get fired, and I'm going to leave before that happens,' they can do that. It happens a lot," he said.

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