Hundreds of Internal Revenue Service employees and contractors continued to have access to at least one sensitive IRS computer system even after they stopped working there, according to a report.
TIGTA found that users are granted access to sensitive systems via the Business Entitlement Access Request System (BEARS) application and that the process is the same for employees and contractors. As of July 13, 2023, the evaluation identified a total of 91,661 users, of whom 5,068 were contractors, employed by 187 different companies, who were authorized to access one or more of the 276 sensitive systems.
Procedures to systematically remove users who no longer required access to those systems weren’t always working correctly. TIGTA identified 279 users who were listed in BEARS as separated from the IRS who, as of July 13, 2023, continued to have access to at least one IRS sensitive system, even though they weren’t working for the IRS anymore. However, none of these users had access to the IRS network, reducing the risk they could access a sensitive system.
TIGTA made three recommendations in the report, such as ensuring that access to sensitive systems is immediately suspended when a contractor is identified as not having a favorable background investigation determination and making sure that user network and sensitive system access are removed for users who leave the IRS. The IRS agreed with all three recommendations.
“During the past year, the IRS has strengthened our internal systems, protocols and procedures by implementing numerous improvements,” wrote Melanie Krause, acting deputy commissioner for operations and support at the IRS, in response to the report. “These include more robust data encryption, stronger 24/7 monitoring that improves insight into suspicious activity on the IRS network, and expanded audit trails that improve the surveillance of internal and external access to IRS sensitive systems. With critical investments made possible by multiyear Inflation Reduction Act funding, our cybersecurity modernization efforts have made important progress in these and other areas.”
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee want the IRS to do more to safeguard the systems, although they have also called for cuts in the Inflation Reduction Act funding.
“Alarm bells should have been set off at the IRS when it was discovered that an IRS contractor stole and leaked thousands of individuals’ tax returns, including President Trump’s,” Smith said in a statement Monday. “Instead, it looks like the agency has done very little in response. The IRS has absolutely no excuse for the failure to protect confidential taxpayer information. The IRS must prioritize safeguarding taxpayer information and put adequate controls in place to prevent leaks of sensitive taxpayer information from happening again.”
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Arizona, who chairs the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, believes the IRS needs to do more this tax season to reassure taxpayers who are worried about filing.
“For the federal tax system to work, taxpayers must be confident that their private taxpayer information is safe and protected,” he said in a statement. “The IRS clearly failed to put in place adequate safety measures to prevent the leaking of thousands of individuals’ tax returns, and it appears the agency still hasn’t learned its lesson. The last thing taxpayers need is one more excuse not to file. Chairman Smith and I call upon the IRS to take immediate steps to protect confidential taxpayer information for the current tax-filing season and put the necessary guardrails in place to ensure private tax returns are never leaked again.”
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