Golf Carts on Course by paulbr is licensed under CC0 1.0.

An IRS agent caught playing golf 168 times during the workday was appropriately fired, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. On another 29 occasions, the IRS agent “played golf when he had requested, and had taken, sick leave.”

The golfing incidents took place years ago but the agent pursued an appeal. The court rejected the appeal Wednesday.

The court noted that the IRS agent’s work arrangement “involved a great deal of trust due to the lack of on-site supervision.”

The case raises questions about current IRS “telework” practices. The golfing incidents occurred many years ago, when IRS remote work was less common. The only reason the golf was discovered: an anonymous letter.

A “lack of on-site supervision” now describes the work arrangements for half of current IRS employees. During duty hours, how often are these employees doing something other than work? And how would IRS management even know?

Half of IRS Employees Work From Home

IRS chief Daniel Werfel recently testified that only 50% of IRS employees bother to come into an office while the other half are “working in some remote location.”

During the Feb. 15 House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kansas) posed the onsite vs. remote question to Werfel.

Werfel said: “It is 50% on site versus 50% working in some remote location.”

Estes replied: “How can somebody in a remote location be handling those tax returns? That just seems to me that it’s not doing the job that needs to be done to help serve American constituents.”

Inadequate Taxpayer Service

In a March 3 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Estes wrote:

I asked because my office staff in Wichita, Kan., regularly assist constituents who are experiencing delayed responses and challenges when working with federal agencies. My office opened more than three times as many IRS-related cases in 2023 as in 2019, suggesting IRS staff were more effective at their jobs before the pandemic.

Estes also wrote:

Some might argue that teleworking, with reduced overhead, offers a tax-saving benefit, but that’s realized only if the agency is providing adequate customer service. The IRS isn’t.

There’s no alternative to the IRS. Unlike a business with competition and the incentive to improve, it will likely continue to put higher priority on employees’ comfort than on providing Americans with good, timely service. That means it is up to Congress to hold the agency accountable.

Agent Misuse of IRS Cars

Another aspect of remote work is the use of IRS cars.

Many remote IRS agents are assigned a taxpayer-funded car from the IRS fleet. A 2021 audit published by the official IRS watchdog found “questionable and missing information reported by special agents.”

The IRS watchdog — formally known as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration — also found that the IRS does not have the documentation to show that IRS cars are used strictly for official business only.

TIGTA found “questionable data reported for individually assigned vehicle use. Specifically, we identified three special agents who reported between 95,000 and 242,000 total mission miles in a 12-month period. The mileage reported is significantly greater than the 7,200 mile utilization criteria used by the IRS’s Facilities Management and Securities Services Division.”

Keep in mind TIGTA only audited a sample of the vehicle logs, and still found three agents who had reported 95,000 or more mission miles in one year. How is that much “mission mileage” possible? Were the agents moonlighting as rideshare drivers?

The Inflation Reduction Act added even more taxpayer funding for IRS cars, even though the audit found the IRS already had too many cars. With the recent supersizing of the IRS, it would be wise for TIGTA to take another look at IRS vehicle fleet management.

Taxpayer Private Data at Risk

Data security is another concerning aspect of the widespread IRS “telework” practices.

Congressman David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) pressed IRS chief Werfel on this topic during the Feb. 15 Ways and Means hearing. Kustoff explored the security environment of an agent working from home — with family members and roommates looming nearby and phones and laptops accessible — vs. working in a secure office.

Many IRS agents are for some reason allowed to use their personal phones and laptops to access, handle, store, and transmit the most sensitive taxpayer information. This is referred to as “Bring Your Own Device” — as opposed to accepting a government-issued device. TIGTA has raised significant concerns about the data security risks of such devices.

If housemates, significant others and kids have access to these personal devices at home, common sense indicates there are more opportunities for sensitive data breaches.

But Werfel did not want to acknowledge the contrasting security environments of home vs. official office. He even tried to compare a home environment with Bring Your Daughter to Work Day: “What if someone has a take your daughter to work day?”

After multiple attempts to get a straight answer, Kustoff said: “Let the record show that you are nonresponsive.” Werfel replied, “Fair enough.”

Video of the exchange is here.

Kustoff followed up with a March 13 letter to Werfel, addressing both the taxpayer service aspect and the data security aspect:

Our constituents regularly report difficulty communicating with the IRS and having their inquiries resolved in a timely manner. Further, a 2024 U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report found that 61 percent of IRS responses to mail inquiries were considered late. Remote work risks exacerbating these issues and may impair crucial services for American taxpayers.
“We are also concerned about the security of confidential taxpayer information that is accessed by IRS employees and contractors working remotely. Americans should be confident that their sensitive taxpayer information is secure, and that the federal government is handling such information responsibly. Remote work presents a variety of unique challenges to safeguarding taxpayer information and ultimately increases the risk of unauthorized access and disclosure.”

Congressional Republicans continue to conduct rigorous IRS oversight. Stay tuned to for updates.