- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2001

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE


A sampling of Internal Revenue Service employees found they used about half their online time at work to visit sex sites, gamble, trade stocks, participate in chat rooms and do other non-work-related activity, the Treasury Departments inspector general said.
Pamela Gardiner, deputy inspector general for tax affairs, said her staff looked at how more than 16,000 IRS employees were using their computers over seven days during a period spanning several months. Her staff found that workers spent 8,250 hours out of 16,275 hours online — or about 51 percent of the time — doing personal business.
Almost 23 percent were using Internet chat rooms, 20 percent were involved in looking up personal financial information and 7 percent were shopping online. Others were found gambling or downloading pornography, she said.
The IRS is imposing new work rules on how employees can use the Internet as a result of the investigation, and has installed new screening software to keep employees away from sex sites.
Deputy IRS Commissioner Bob Wenzel said he found the employees Internet use improper and thanked the inspector general for bringing the matter to his attention.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, says he is not satisfied with the agencys response. He noted that during this years tax season, 37 percent of taxpayers calling the IRS for tax information didnt have their calls answered. Those that did get a response were given wrong answers 47 percent of the time.
"Its reasonable to expect a basic level of service from the IRS to taxpayers," Mr. Grassley said.
He questioned whether IRS employees were letting taxpayer calls go unanswered because they are involved in personal activities online.
"Some IRS employees are clearly goofing off," he said.
In a separate report, the IRS inspector general found that 47 percent of 82,000 e-mail messages coming into the IRS involved non-business matters.
Among the topics the e-mail covered were daily joke services, high school reunion news, and information from a fan site devoted to a popular rock singer.


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