- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Everyone always wants the latest technology, but a government auditor said Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service wasted millions of dollars on BlackBerrys and wireless modem aircards that employees don’t need or even use.

In 2011 alone, the IRS paid $1.1 million for nearly 14,000 aircards and 754 BlackBerrys that weren’t used for at least three straight months, and 45 of those aircards and 68 BlackBerrys were unused the entire year, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration said in a report.

More than 2,500 employees may have gotten their technological gadgets without ever getting a manager’s approval, the auditor says.

The IRS has agreed to review employees’ technology use, but it rejected the idea of pooling aircards for workers to share.

IRS employees have been assigned 35,000 taxpayer-funded aircards and 4,400 BlackBerrys, at a cost of $11.4 million in 2011.

“The processes for assigning and monitoring the use of aircards and BlackBerrys are not effective,” the auditors say. “We found that assignment of these devices is generally based on job series classifications without adequately ensuring a business need exists.”

Under an agreement between the IRS and a labor union, which employees are eligible for aircards is set out in the rules, based on factors such as business travel and the need to work outside the office.

In its official response, the IRS said it believes that process is working and rejected the auditors’ calls to re-evaluate the situation. The agency said it “strongly disagreed” with the title of the report, which suggested the aircard and Blackberry policies produced “millions of dollars” in “unnecessary access fees.” Agency officials also said they already had addressed many of the shortcomings highlighted in the inspector general’s report.

The auditors said that the rules call for BlackBerrys generally to go to senior executives, but they said many are held by employees outside that description. Of the 5,124 BlackBerrys the IRS had in May 2012, auditors said 2,123 — 41 percent — were assigned to employees whose jobs didn’t automatically qualify, and of those, 1,000 didn’t get a manager’s approval for an exception to the policy.