COVID-19 Cases at IRS Have Been Rising as Facilities Reopen, IG Says

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said that the number of COVID-19 cases at the IRS has been rising since employees who were on telework have been gradually brought back into facilities.

On January 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first case of COVID-19 in the United States. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic and, shortly thereafter, the first case of an IRS employee testing COVID-19 positive was reported. In response to the pandemic and resulting State stay-at-home orders, the IRS began closing its facilities on March 16, 2020. On March 30, 2020, the IRS directed all employees with portable work to evacuate worksites and work from home or an alternate location, effectively closing all IRS facilities, though some employees continued to report to certain locations to perform mission-essential work.

As State and local governments began lifting restrictions, the IRS was also aware of the needs of taxpayers and the increasing backlog of work. On April 27, 2020, the IRS began the process of recalling employees to its facilities in phases, beginning with voluntary recalls to select facilities and transitioning to a broader opening of facilities nationwide for mission-essential, nonportable work. The IRS reported that all of its facilities have been open to mission-essential functions and nonportable work since July 13, 2020

Since reopening IRS facilities across the country for limited operations, the number of IRS employees who reported testing positive for COVID-19 has increased. As of February 28, 2021, 3,404 IRS employees reported having tested positive for COVID-19. IRS data show that approximately 45 percent of these employees reported to an IRS facility during the 14 days preceding a positive test result for COVID-19.

As part of its efforts to quickly inform and protect employees during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS made Federal guidance available to all employees, in addition to developing and issuing its own internal guidance. These internal guidelines generally aligned with Federal guidelines and best practices issued by the Office of Personnel Management, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Government Accountability Office, and other Federal authorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the IRS’s ability to perform its responsibilities of processing tax returns, tax payments, and tax refunds. The pandemic also threatens the lives of IRS employees, several of whom have passed away from the virus since March 2020. As such, the IRS has had to balance the completion of its mission and the health and safety of its employees.

This audit was requested by Congress in House Report 116–456, accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The House Report instructed TIGTA to submit a report within 90 days of enactment.

TIGTA will continue to review the IRS’s actions to protect the health and safety of its employees and provide updated information in a subsequent report to be issued later this fiscal year.

Read the TIGTA report

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