A federal labor board has sided with the Internal Revenue Service in a case over the agency's desire to raise the educational requirements for revenue agents.

The IRS approved the new standards in 1995, increasing the number of college credits required for revenue agents from 24 hours, to 30 hours, and outlining five specific areas of coursework for job applicants. However, budget and staffing cuts prevented the agency from hiring new agents under the guidelines until 2002.

The National Treasury Employees Union, a federal labor board, said that the standards were arbitrary and violated the union's contract. An arbitrator agreed with the union, saying that the new requirements weren't essential if the IRS was willing to grandfather-in current agents under the old rules.

When the agency announced the planned change in 2002, it said that only about 30 percent of its agents didn't meet the higher educational requirements.

IRS officials said that taxpayers are entitled to audits of their tax returns by agents who have the equivalent of a college degree, while union officials said the changes were a way to block employees from promotions and hire from outside the agency.

Last week, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the independent agency that handles disputes between agencies and unions, sided with the IRS in a unanimous decision. Union representatives said they would consider options for further administrative review.

Previously in Accounting Today:

Editorial: IRS's education requirements unfair (March 14, 2005)

IRS, union vie over agents' education (Aug. 23, 2004)

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