The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, passed overnight and signed this morning by President Trump to end the second federal government shutdown of this year, includes two key provisions for whistleblowers previously introduced by Senator Charles Grassley but removed from the January budget deal.
Earlier this year, the IRS Whistleblower Office and its Director Lee Martin issued guidelines for the use of 6103(n) contracts with tax whistleblowers. This has been a somewhat controversial area in the past, since it requires balancing the privacy rights of the taxpayer.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the reconciliation of the tax legislation has dropped the definition of collected proceeds for the IRS whistleblower program introduced into the Senate version that passed. The amendment was added by Senator Chuck Grassley, an advocate for whistleblowers and responsible for introducing the legislative provision in 2007 that created the IRS whistleblower program.
The Senate passed the $1.1 trillion budget bill on Saturday evening and President Obama has signalled that he will sign the budget for Fiscal Year 2015 later this week. As Congress allocated resources in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for 2015, both the CFTC and SEC got significant increases. The IRS, on the other hand, lost 3 percent of its budget.
The bill is important because it provides funding for the agencies charged with enforcing the nation’s whistleblower laws. As only the False Claims Act allows qui tam lawsuits, whistleblowers to the Internal Revenue Service, Securities & Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission are dependent upon enforcement actions brought by the government agencies. Their ability to have the resources to take on some cases may be dependent on their budget and personnel.
The also repealed the swaps push out rule from the Dodd-Frank Act and prohibits federal payments to corporations which prohibit whistleblowers from reporting fraud, waste and abuse to the U.S. Government.
Here’s a more extensive discussion of each aspect mentioned above:
The CFTC budget for Fiscal Year 2015 was increased to $250 million. It will receive $35 million more than the $215 million it got in FY 2014. The nation’s derivatives regulator sought an additional $30 million for a total budget request of $280 million. The request primarily called for more personnel at the Commission.
The CFTC has faced problems with declining employee morale due to its inadequate budget over the past few years. The percentage of people who would recommend the CFTC as a good place to work fell from 64 percent last year to 45 percent this year. Overall job satisfication at the agency has declined substantially from 2010, when Dodd-Frank was passed.
The CFTC budget has been constrained by certain legislators as they attempted to prevent implementation of parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. CFTC Chairman Timothy Massad essentially stated that the low budget put the agency in regulatory triage. Even at the higher levels for 2015, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, called the budget inadequate to allow the CFTC to do its job. Derivatives trading has grown from a $500 billion business to a $700 trillion industry without a corresponding increase in CFTC funding.
The SEC received an increase of $250 million in its budget for FY 2015 from FY 2014 levels. Its total FY 2015 budget will be $1.5 billion, $200 million short of the agency request of $1.7 billion. The budget request for a total increase of $450 million sought to hire additional employees, invest in technology solutions and complete rulemaking required by the Dodd-Frank Act and the JOBS Act.
The budget deal cut IRS funding by three percent to $10.9 billion for 2015. The reduction in funding by $345.6 million will need to come from an agency that has already reduced spending by more than $1 billion because of budget cuts since 2010. The FY 2014 level was $11.29 billion.
President Obama asked for Congress to provide the agency with $12.477 billion. The IRS Oversight Board estimated that the President’s budget would allow the U.S. Government to collect an additional $2.1 billion in revenue and avoid the loss of $360 million a year due to identity theft. Every dollar decrease in IRS funding allows roughly $7 in taxes to go uncollected. With implementation of FATCA proceeding, the budget decrease does not come at an opportune time.
One aspect of the President’s budget proposal not in the final bill: The Treasury Department’s request for IRS whistleblower protections against retaliation. This section has been removed by Congress annually for the past few years.
Dodd-Frank Swaps Push Out
The SEC and CFTC budget increases can be attributed to a deal made to repeal section 716 of the Dodd-Frank Act. The section was commonly referred to as the swaps push out rule. It required banks to move derivatives trading out of their federally insured subsidiaries. The financial health of subsidiaries protected by federally insured deposits allows them significant advantages while trading and could put federal funds at risk. The measure was largely written by Citigroup in advance of the 2015 deadline for implementing the section of the law.
The reversal of the swaps push out rule was one of the most controversial aspects of the entire budget. Its addition to the law used the impending deadline for government shutdown. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), who was involved in the creation of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, nevertheless marshalled a tremendous amount of opposition to it. A White House statement opposed the section but did not indicate that President Obama would veto the bill because of it.
Employment agreements have proven to be a common tool used by employers to attempt to restrict whistleblowers. Congress took a step in the right direction with the bill by restricting payments to corporations which prohibit reporting waste, fraud or abuse to the Federal Government. Money from the FY 2015 budget can not be paid to corporations requiring employees to sign confidentiality agreements that prevent them from blowing the whistle.
The provision reads:
SEC. 743. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this or any other Act may be available for a contract, grant, or cooperative agreement with an entity that requires employees or contractors of such entity seeking to report fraud, waste, or abuse to sign internal confidentiality agreements or statements prohibiting or otherwise restricting such employees or contractors from lawfully reporting such waste, fraud, or abuse to a designated investigative or law enforcement representative of a Federal department or agency authorized to receive such information.
It is great to see Congress take a step in the right direction with the insertion of this section into the budget. The section may create additional litigation under the False Claims Act as it operates as a condition for payment to federal contractors. Companies which violate the law by imposing one of these agreements on its employees could be subject to treble damages under the False Claims Act if they misrepresent the compliance of their employment contract with this rule in order to receive payment on their government contract. In addition to businesses fulfilling government contracts, it also implicates the health care industry because hospitals or other health organizations with these contracts would not be able to receive funds from Medicare.
The SEC has also already taken aim at this practice in the securities industry. According to the Washington Post in March, the SEC opened an investigation into confidentiality agreements created by KBR that potentially violate Rule 21F-17(a). The rule prohibits any action to impede an individual from communicating with the SEC about a possible securities law violation including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement.
There has been several calls for changes to this employer practice. In October, eight U.S. Representatives on the House Committees on Financial Services and Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) urged the SEC to take additional enforcement actions against corporations using workplace secrecy agreements to chill whistleblowing.
Other Items of Interest to Employees
There were also small increases (less than $1 million) to the EEOC and OSHA budgets. The OSHA budget had sought an appx. $3 million increase in the amount of money for enforcement of whistleblower protections from retaliation and an appx. $30 million increase in the funding for the Wage and Hour Division to protect workers from FLSA violations related to worker misclassification, overtime and other pay rules. I haven’t independently verified it in the bill, but according to one report I have seen, wage and hour enforcement got an extra $3.2 million dollar increase and whistleblower protections had a small, less than $1 million increase.
The Justice Department has appealed a decision by the U.S. Tax Court last year to provide an IRS whistleblower reward based upon a criminal fine and civil forfeitures. The Government’s appeal to the D.C. Circuit attempts to reverse a favorable decision for whistleblowers on the definition of collected proceeds used in the terms of the IRS whistleblower program.
The “Whistleblower”, who wishes to remain anonymous (hereinafter referred to as “Mr. Doe”), worked as a CPA in the accounting department of a Fortune 500 financial services firm. While carrying out his basic job responsibilities, Mr. Doe discovered that his employer failed to properly disclose the extent of its tax liability and also claimed tax credits in excess of permissible amounts. Mr. Doe initially reported these accounting errors to company management. However, to his dismay, the Company decided not to correct the accounting errors discovered and, to make matters worse, the company made a conscious decision not to inform the IRS who was in the midst of performing a large case examination. By withholding this information from the IRS, Mr. Doe determined that the Company had committed tax fraud in the form of an underpayment totaling in excess of $20 million.
Mr. Doe originally filed his tax fraud whistleblower case pro se in April 2007, after the newly formed IRS Whistleblower Office opened. After having been contacted and interviewed early on, years went by during which time Mr. Doe received no information of feedback from the IRS. Mr. Doe became concerned that if the IRS conducted an investigation and recovered back taxes as a result, that his claim to a reward under the new whistleblower program may not be assured. It was then that Mr. Doe retained Eric L. Young, Esquire, an Egan Young founding partner, to represent him.
Mr. Young, an experienced whistleblower attorney, assessed the case and determined not only that Mr. Doe’s allegations should be of significant interest to the IRS, but that the case appeared to not have been properly docketed by the IRS Whistleblower Office. Mr. Young proceeded to work with the IRS’ Whistleblower Office by resubmitting Mr. Doe’s claim and assuring that a “Claims Number” was assigned by the Whistleblower Office — something that did not occur before Mr. Young assumed representation in this case.
After securing a Claims Number for Mr. Doe’s claim, Mr. Young proceeded to provide all of the original case documents and information to the IRS Whistleblower Office, further exposing the Company’s substantial fraud. At the same time, Mr. Young determined that an investigation had ensued and over the course of his representation, both he and his associate, Brandon J. Lauria, Esquire, maintained close contact with the IRS Whistleblower Office in order to assure that Mr. Doe’s allegations were investigated and that his right to a reward would be protected in the event of a recovery by the IRS.
Mr. Doe’s decision to retain Mr. Young and his law firm paid off. On April 7th, 2011, Mr. Doe received the first-ever mandatory whistleblower reward (as confirmed by the IRS Whistleblower Office) in the amount of $4.5 Million. Although the IRS code provides that rewards may range from 15 to 30 percent of the IRS recovery, Mr. Young’s representation and the Whistleblower’s cooperation directly led to an enhanced reward of 22 percent!
The IRS Large Business & International Division (LB&I) is launching eleven compliance campaigns to target potential tax issues at the nearly 300,000 taxpayers within its jurisdiction. When a regulator announces that it will spend resources for investigation and enforcement in a particular area, it can be a good signal that it will look carefully at any credible whistleblower tips.
Medtronic, a medical device company, has just settled a tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over the repatriation of overseas cash for its 2007 acquisition of Kyphon for $330 million. Medtronic used a mix of U.S. and overseas cash in order to pay for the $4.2 billion acquisition.
The dispute arose over the amount of the repatriated $3.3 billion in overseas cash that would be taxable. Taxation of cash generated outside the United States has become an issue because of the large amount of cash that some corporations have acquired through overseas operations. If they bring that cash back into the US, they will have to pay tax on it here, minus the amount that they paid overseas. Lawmakers have discussed a variety of measures to encourage corporations to repatriate their cash located outside the United States and bring it into the country.
Medtronic agreed to pay $275 million to settle the allegations and another $54 million in interest. The company’s settlement does not resolve its dispute with the IRS over transfer pricing that arose from transactions in 2005 and 2006.
If you have questions about this or another aspect of the IRS whistleblower program, feel free to contact one of our IRS whistleblower attorneys via our contact form or by calling 1-800-590-4116. Our law firm offers a free, confidential initial legal consultation with a lawyer for whistleblowers.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that internal and government investigations into suspected violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by Wal-Mart Stores have not turned up the evidence of a massive bribery scheme that many commentators expected. Instead, the FCPA investigation discovered millions of dollars in improper payments to Indian officials to speed goods through customs or secure real estate permits but most of these payments were in small amounts of between $5 and $200.
However, there is still time for additional evidence to be uncovered before government officials make up their mind as to the potential size of any fine for the FCPA violations. One event that might alter the landscape of potential penalties would be if a whistleblower came forward with additional evidence and testimony concerning. The SEC whistleblower program incentivizes individuals with the promise of rewards of between 10 and 30 percent of monetary sanctions over $1 million that result from the information provided.
This series of events happened during the Government’s investigation into Countrywide. One of the mortgage whistleblowers in the case came forward with information about the Hustle loan program after the government investigation did not reveal the major misconduct.
The Government investigation of Walmart started in 2012 following public revelations by the New York Times and involved two dozen attorneys, investigators and agents at the DOJ, SEC, FBI and IRS. The results of the federal investigation reportedly match the results of the company’s own investigation.
Wal-Mart has spent more than $650 million as part of its investigation and efforts to bolster compliance. Initially starting in Mexico, it expanded to include, at a minimum, China, India and Brazil. Siemens AG, which paid $800 million to settle the investigations by the DOJ and SEC into its own bribery charges, reportedly spent more than $1 billion on its investigation and global remediation.
The article predicts that the potential government fine of WalMart will be well below previous estimates. In 2012, a Business Insider article calculated how the penalty imposed on the world’s largest retailer could reach over $13 billion. Instead, the Wall Street Journal surmised that because most of the bribery occurred in India and the company earned little profits in the country, there would be a relatively limited fine.
The WSJ story also suggests that there may not be any criminal charges against executives of Wal-Mart. Following the New York Times story concerning the potential cover up of millions of dollars of bribery in Mexico, this seemed unlikely. A grand jury was convened in the case but the status of it was not revealed by the article.
If you have evidence of bribery by a publicly traded corporation, contact one of our FCPA whistleblower attorneys for assistance reporting it to the U.S. Government. An attorney can be reached via our contact form or by calling 1-800-590-4116.
The war against international tax evasion took another step forward yesterday with President Obama proposing a federal registry of the owners of all companies created and operating in the United States to aid in the elimination of anonymous shell companies.