The IRS performed well in aftermath of Texas plane attack, auditors say

This story has been updated with comment from the National Treasury Employees Union

In the weeks following the February 2010 suicide pilot's attack on an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas, IRS employees were timely in treating the counseling needs of colleagues, setting up temporary office space and resuming operations without compromising sensitive taxpayer data, according to a watchdog's report released Thursday.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said in an audit dated Sept. 21 that the IRS had effectively followed procedures to resume work within 18 calendar days of the attack by an individual flying a single-engine aircraft who was disgruntled with his tax situation. One IRS employee died, and 13 were injured.

TIGTA auditors did criticize the agency's business resumption plans for the Echelon Building in Austin -- charging that some elements were missing -- and said the salvage plans to recover documents lacked some security provisions. But "these issues did not have a material impact on the IRS' response," said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

IRS changes after the attack, the report noted, included increasing the number of security guards at all taxpayer assistance centers nationwide and at the IRS buildings in Austin, coordinating with the Homeland Security Department and the FBI on investigating the incident, awarding a contract to conduct risk assessments of physical security at IRS facilities across the country, and forming a working group of senior managers to examine the execution of the agency's armed escort program.

Responding to a draft of the report, IRS officials agreed with recommendations for improving continuity plans as well as the lessons learned. The lessons at the executive level include respecting the importance of taking evacuation drills and tabletop exercises seriously, identifying and establishing a network of external sources who offer assistance to trauma victims of disasters or emergencies with numerous other federal and state agencies, and identifying IRS employees nationwide with prior experience in providing direction during emergency situations.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in email that the report "rightly credits the agency with putting the needs of its employees in Austin at the top of its responsibilities in the post-attack period.

"The IRS worked closely with NTEU, at both the national and chapter levels, to promptly assess and address the needs of employees, including the psychological concerns arising from having their workplace deliberately struck by an airplane," she said. "In the days immediately after the incident, one of the primary concerns of the IRS employees involved was to return to work as promptly as possible, reflecting an understanding of the importance of their mission and their dedication to the needs of taxpayers."

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