The Internal Revenue Service is taking steps to reduce the likelihood of harm to its employees by removing their first names from correspondence, but their last names and phone numbers will still appear.
A report released Thursday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration revealed that during walkthroughs at IRS tax processing centers in fiscal year 2022, IRS employees told TIGTA that their managers, whose full names and office phone numbers appeared on manual correspondence, were being contacted on their personal telephone lines or through social media rather than through normal business methods. TIGTA initiated a review to see what actions could be taken to minimize the risk of potential harm to employees whose personal information is used in tax processing correspondence.
The move comes as threats to IRS employees have increased over the past year after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last summer provided $80 billion in extra funding for the agency. Last year, TIGTA reported that security vulnerabilities at IRS facilities aren’t being addressed (see story).
“TIGTA is concerned that taxpayers and anti-government or anti-tax groups with malevolent intent may use the internet or social media to track down and identify IRS employees, their families, their homes, and personal information to threaten, intimidate, or locate them for physical violence,” said the report.
TIGTA surveyed a sample group of 32 IRS managers who sign tax processing correspondence and found that 11 (34%) of them have been contacted by taxpayers outside of normal business methods. However, none of the 11 managers contacted outside normal business channels reported that they or their families were threatened or intimidated because of these contacts. TIGTA recommended that the IRS protect the identity of IRS employees who sign manually generated tax processing correspondence by removing their first name and replacing it with the employee’s title, Mr., Ms., or a gender-neutral title. The report also suggested that the head of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, ensure that all tax processing correspondence is revised to remove the signing IRS employee’s first name and replace it with the employee’s title. IRS management agreed with our recommendations.
In response, the IRS plans to revise IRS employee signatures on the correspondence letters by next month. The IRS also plans to make program changes that will eliminate the use of employees’ first names from manually generated correspondence and will provide the appropriate title in its place by June 2023.
“The IRS takes the safety and security of its employees very seriously; however, it is noteworthy that during the course of this review; however, it is noteworthy that during the course of this review, neither conversations with the audit team nor reaching out to the managers whose signatures appear on the Correspondex letters identified anyone who had requested the use of a pseudonym or reported threatening or harassing contacts to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which is the protocol for such incidents,” wrote Kenneth Corbin, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, in response to the report.
The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 requires the name, telephone number and a unique identifying number whom IRS taxpayers can contact to appear on manually generated correspondence. Corbin pointed out that in the 25 years since the law was enacted, social media has become ubiquitous in daily life.
“Where locating an individual outside the area covered by the local telephone directory was once a substantial undertaking, individuals can now be reached worldwide,” he wrote. “We will take steps to limit the amount of personally identifiable information of our employees provided on manually generated correspondence while remaining compliant with the provisions of RRA ’98.”