EPA CLAIMS RIGHT TO UNILATERALLY GARNISH WAGES

According to an article from the Washington Times, the Environmental Protection Agency has given itself the power to unilaterally garnish wages of persons accused of violating EPA rules. this was accomplished by putting a notice in the Federal Register stating that the EPA can garnish non-Federal wages to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed the United States without first obtaining a court order. This rule change was fast tracked and not subject to review because the EPA classified the changes as not as “significant regulatory action.” The EPA does say that it will give the debtor prior notice and give the debtor the opportunity to “review, contest or enter into a repayment agreement.” The process being used by the EPA is an “Administrative Wage Garnishment” under the Administrative Procedure Act. There appear to be a number of legitimate criticisms of this process. One criticism of this new rule is that it shifts the burden of proof on the alleged debtor to prove by a preponderance of the evidence of the correctness of the debtor’s position. Another is that the rule lets the EPA decide if the debtor will actually get a chance to appear in person or have the case decided on a paper record. A third criticism is that the EPA gets to chose the site of the hearing. Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is that if the debtor gets a hearing at all it will be before a hearing officer hand picked and paid for by the EPA. As with most administrative hearings, the ability of one side to select and pay for the hearing officer unquestionably...

CHANGING THE RULES

We came across this interesting Washington Post article yesterday that illustrates some of the problems with our bloated federal bureaucracy. The story starts with Congress lifting the 10 year statute of limitation applicable to the Government’s right to pursue old debts. As a result, the US Treasury Department and other agencies are now able to go back forever to pursue old debts. State of the Union While we are troubled at our Government retroactively changing the rules, in our view that is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only did this change allow the government to go back and attempt to collect old debts, but it expanded the number of potential people responsible for that debt. In one collection action discussed in the article, 58 year old Mary Grice had her tax refund seized without notice. The Social Security Administration claimed that back in 1977 it overpaid someone in the Grice Family. In 1977, Mary Grice was 4 years old and her father had died leaving her mother with five children. Until the children were 18, the government paid them Social Security survivor benefits. Although the Social Security Administration today can’t actually prove who received the over-payment, it still seized Mrs. Grice’s refund. The Social Security Administration has taken the position that the money can be recovered from anyone in the family who “indirectly” received any benefit or assistance from public dollars. Another concern with this process is the fact that the Social Security Administration is using a private contractor to handle the collection efforts. This is likely to create perverse enforcement incentives. Also not surprising is the...