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IRS paid for employees' real estate classes

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The IRS paid for employees to take course in real estate or Japanese and Mandarin language classes as part of its continuing-education benefit program, according to an audit that found the agency wasn’t doing a good enough job of checking what it was paying for.

The program was designed to help retain quality employees by offering tuition assistance for those looking to update their work-related skills, but over the last four years it has sent more than $700,000 to non-accredited institutions, according to the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.

And in 2010 alone, the agency paid for liberal arts courses, personal finance courses or classes in real estate that the investigators said should never have qualified.

Investigators said such classes accounted for 1 percent of tuition payments, and said that the program was a dramatic improvement over a previous plan that ran from 2000 through 2007. The assistance program was cut entirely this year because of tightening budgets.

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