Fedweek

An inspector general audit has said the IRS needs to more tightly control a program that seeks to balance employee privacy and accountability by allowing some employees to use pseudonyms when dealing with taxpayers.

The IRS started the program in 1992 “to help protect employees who felt they might be harassed, threatened, or assaulted in the performance of their duties,” the report said. Six years later the law was changed to require employees to justify the need for a pseudonym and obtain management approval out of concerns that employees “could use pseudonyms to avoid accountability for their actions while protecting an employee’s right to use a pseudonym.”

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The IRS then set standards including use of pseudonyms when an employee’s job or place of duty exposes the employee or the employee’s family to an increased risk to personal safety or where a taxpayer has engaged in threatening activity such as contacting the employee at his or her home.

As of December 2018, 729 employees had registered pseudonyms, four-fifths of them revenue officers or revenue agents. They are issued identification documents in the approved pseudonym name, including a Smart ID Card and pocket commission credential and, on request, an official travel credit card.

However, in a sampling of 129, the IG found that the IRS could not produce documentation to justify 51 nor proof that management had approved 43. Auditors also found cases in which the files included incorrect information and others in which employees were using unregistered pseudonyms.

“Taxpayers have a right to know that the person contacting them regarding their taxes is in fact an IRS employee. Currently, the IRS may be unable to timely verify a pseudonym holder’s identity, which may cause increased taxpayer mistrust of the IRS and undue stress for the taxpayer,” it said.

It said the IRS agreed with most of its recommendations.

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