Nearly a dozen IRS employees took unauthorized first-class and business-class flights in the past two years that cost taxpayers over $50,000, according to a new report.

The report, by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration, found 11 unauthorized instances of first-class air travel by IRS employees between Oct. 1, 2007, and March 31, 2009, for a total cost of $50,892. Of these, three were domestic first-class tickets and eight were international business-class tickets. However, only three of the 11 were not justified based on the travel guidelines in effect at that time.

The IRS issued new guidelines in August 2008 limiting the purchase of “premium-class” airline tickets by its employees, which resulted in a significant decrease in the use of business-class travel. The federal government defines premium-class travel as first- or business-class air travel or first-class train travel. TIGTA found that, while the IRS’s existing procedures are generally effective in limiting unauthorized premium-class travel, it is still possible for IRS employees to purchase premium-class travel tickets without proper authorization.

First-class tickets must be authorized by the IRS commissioner. Business class (often used for overseas travel) must be authorized by the commissioner of the Large and Midsize Business Division, whose employees tend to travel overseas more frequently than those in other divisions.

“Premium-class flights are of special concern to taxpayers, because they often cost thousands of dollars more than the coach-class alternatives,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS clarify for its employees the conditions under which premium-class travel is appropriate and remind managers that purchasing first-class train tickets requires authorization from the IRS commissioner. In response to the report, the IRS agreed with the recommendations and is issuing guidance.

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