With some employees on the road for more than 200 business days per year, the Internal Revenue Service needs to better follow federal guidelines and scale back per diem rates, said a report from Senate Finance Committee Republicans released on Thursday.
“Committee staff saw example after example of routine Amtrak Acela trips, black car service and luxury apartment rentals when reviewing IRS employee travel vouchers,” Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote in a letter to Internal Revenue Commissioner John Koskinen. “Furthermore, the IRS made woefully insufficient efforts to reduce expenses in ways that would still allow employees to travel comfortably.”
A review of fiscal 2015 IRS travel set in motion last May after senators inquired about travel in several federal agencies found that the IRS had 27 employees who traveled 125 business days or more at a total cost of over $1.4 million. These employees averaged $52,800 in travel costs for the year, with an average length of 207 days in travel status, the report said. More than half of the travel time was for coming to Washington, D.C., “evidence that some executives at the IRS are still not geographically located where their primary job duties are,” the report said, citing in particular the chief technology officer, who lives in Texas.
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Failure to review and reduce the per diem rates violates the General Services Administration’s Federal Travel Regulation and the IRS’ own Internal Revenue Manual, the senators said. “If the IRS would follow its own internal guidance without exception and institute best practices from other agencies, it could see significant cost savings among all employees who travel for significant amounts of time during the year, not just those traveling for more than half of the year,” the report said.
Amtrak’s Acela service, for example, “can be at least twice the cost of Amtrak’s regional service, [and] it did not result in enough time saved to warrant the additional cost in the opinion of the committee.”
The reason for the focus on IRS, the report said, is that the other agencies reviewed—the Social Security Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the U.S. International Trade Commission—did not have many employees with lengthy trips.
The senators asked Koskinen for a briefing on steps the agency is taking to reduce travel costs.
In a statement to Government Executive, the IRS said it “appreciates the recommendations of the committee, and we will be providing a response to the committee in the very near future. We will be closely reviewing the report.”