A new government report finds that the Internal Revenue Service is mostly ready to deal with a flu pandemic like the H1N1 virus, but not entirely.

In 2006, the Homeland Security Council requested that the heads of various federal departments and agencies certify that their department or agency was addressing the applicable elements of pandemic planning set forth in a checklist it developed. In August 2008, the checklist was updated to reflect current federal government guidance.

The Department of the Treasury used the Homeland Security Council checklist to assess pandemic preparations by each of the Treasury bureaus. In its report, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration chose to use the same criteria and shared the results of the inspection with the Department of the Treasury’s director of emergency programs.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS implement a process to provide management with daily information on attendance levels. Also, in expanding the teleworking program, the IRS should include a provision for directed teleworking of qualified employees in an emergency.

In their response to the report, Internal Revenue Service officials stated that the Wage and Investment Division has incorporated procedures for reporting absenteeism into their Business Resumption Plans, and the Human Capital Office plans to modify telework agreements to stipulate that employees may be directed to telework during emergency situations.

In an interim report, TIGTA found that the IRS had addressed the majority of the pandemic checklist issued by the Homeland Security Council and was taking steps to complete the remainder.

However, while acknowledging that the IRS has addressed the pandemic checklist, there were additional aspects of a potential outbreak that TIGTA believed warranted additional review. This included the tests, training, and exercises related to local business continuity plans (using a pandemic scenario); contingencies if a campus or field office had to completely close down due to expected high absenteeism; and the IRS’s ability to use telework in the context of a pandemic.

In the course of the review, TIGTA determined that guidance related to pandemic influenza developed by the IRS was distributed to field operations and that seasonal and pandemic vaccinations will be provided for employees. The report found that while continuity exercises have improved, further development plans for the exercises are warranted.

In addition, TIGTA noted that even with the potential of high absenteeism due to pandemic, daily staffing levels at large IRS facilities is not consistently tracked, and the IRS does not include a provision in teleworking agreements for directed teleworking of qualified employees in an emergency, such as a pandemic.

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