One in Five IRS Teleworkers Working Without Official Authorization

Flickr user MoneyBlogNewz

One in five Internal Revenue Service employees who telework are not complying with a key provision of the law governing the practice, according to a new report, potentially undermining the integrity of a program that is otherwise mostly in line with federal statute.

About 7,800 of the 37,000 IRS employees who teleworked in a one-year period between 2014 and 2015 did so without a proper agreement in place with their manager, as required by the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration made its estimate in an audit that found 21 percent of a random sample of IRS teleworkers either had no agreement or had an arrangement not signed by their supervisor.

While nearly all teleworkers were in compliance with telework training requirements, roughly 2,200 employees -- again extrapolated out from TIGTA’s random sample -- have not received proper training. IRS management said it is already working on adjusting its procedures to require proof of training before employees can telework.

A small fraction of IRS teleworkers was found to have engaged in misconduct such as absence without leave, accessing taxpayer records without authorization and willful tax noncompliance. Nearly all of those employees, the TIGTA report found, were able to continue teleworking despite their infractions.

The telework act specifically prohibits employees from working remotely if they are absent without permission for more than five days in a year or access pornography on a federal computer or while performing their official duties. IRS’ own rules, however, require managers to prohibit telework for employees engaged in conduct “detrimental to the IRS mission” of the telework program.

TIGTA suggested IRS draft a clear list of activities considered detrimental, rather than leave it to managers’ discretion. The current system, the auditors said, could lead to “disparate treatment of employees.” The IRS agreed to create such a list, though TIGTA warned the agency must consult the National Treasury Employees Union in writing it.

The IRS also agreed to ensure teleworkers have agreements -- used to ensure “time and attendance, work performance, liability, equipment security, policies associated with security and privacy, and suspension or modification of the agreement if an employee is not meeting the standards of the agreement” -- in place. Federal agencies first began requiring telework agreements in 2000, with OPM finalizing current requirements in 2011 following the enactment of the 2010 update.

“Ensuring qualification requirements are met is essential to upholding the integrity of the program, maintaining public trust in tax administration and safeguarding taxpayer information,” TIGTA said. 

Photo: Flickr user MoneyBlogNewz

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