In fiscal year (FY) 2011, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) spent about $2 million on aircards — devices that enable employees with laptop computers to access wireless networks outside the office — and smartphones that either went unused or were issued to employees who were not entitled to them, a Treasury Department audit has found.
According to the report, issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) in response to President Barack Obama’s 2011 executive order calling for cost-cutting measures across all federal agencies, in FY 2011 the IRS had about 35,000 aircards and 4,400 BlackBerry smartphones assigned to employees. The agency must pay a monthly access fee for each of these devices whether or not the device is used. All told, the IRS shelled out about $11.4 million in such fees in FY 2011.
With so many devices with expensive fees floating around, it is important that they be issued only to employees who absolutely need them. TIGTA found, however, that the IRS routinely issues aircards and smartphones to employees solely on the basis of their “job series classifications,” not on the basis of whether they actually need them. Employees whose job series fit a “high mobility” profile must request mobile devices, but “managerial review” of these requests “does not always ensure that requesting employees have a business need before devices are assigned,” TIGTA wrote. Furthermore, “there is no consistent process followed within the business units when determining whether an exception should be granted for requests from employees in nonprofiled job series,” TIGTA reported, so even individuals not classified as “high mobility” can still obtain devices regardless of need.
Overall, TIGTA found that “2,560 employees may have been assigned an aircard or BlackBerry smartphone without required management approval,” costing taxpayers “more than $950,000 in Fiscal Year 2011, or about $4.8 million over five years.” IRS business unit coordinators claimed that some of the devices were properly assigned but often could not prove their contentions because of inaccurate inventory records. The lack of an accurate accounting was so pronounced that TIGTA announced plans “to initiate a separate review assessing inventory controls over these devices.”
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