The Internal Revenue Service is calling 10,000 “mission-critical” employees back to 10 campuses across the country, but it won’t immediately be providing personal protective equipment to protect them from the coronavirus.
Employees will be asked to bring their own mask, according to an internal IRS email made public by the House Ways and Means Committee on April 25.
The announcement was made to staff on April 24 from Robin Bailey Jr., the IRS human capital officer, and Kevin McIver, the deputy human capital officer.
“Although the IRS is seeking to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves, each IRS facility may not be able to initially procure the PPE for all employees immediately,” the officials wrote. “Employees are therefore required to bring personal face coverings for their nose and mouth area when they come to work.”
According to the email, the IRS is calling certain employees back to perform work that can only be done on-site.
In a statement, an IRS spokesperson said the agency will prioritize the health and safety of employees. The spokesperson also said the agency is working to obtain PPE and expects it to be delivered “as early as this weekend and upcoming week.”
“Bringing employees back to work is essential to address mission-critical needs for the nation, and the IRS is an essential component to our country’s whole-of-government approach to confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide American taxpayers, including the most vulnerable, with the services they expect, it is essential that the IRS resumes a number of key responsibilities,” the statement said.
Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement that those jobs include opening letters, handling tax documents, answering phones and “other functions related to the filing season."
Reardon said in a statement that the IRS informed the union that the agency will first seek volunteers to return to the office with incentive pay.
“We are communicating with the IRS about working conditions at those facilities to make sure there are adequate cleaning and disinfecting supplies, accommodations to allow for physical distancing among employees and personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves,” Reardon said.
The IRS is preparing for this summer’s tax day, which was rescheduled from April 15 to July 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 928,500 coronavirus cases in the United States, with more than 52,000 deaths, as of April 25.
According to a statement from Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and John Lewis, D-Ga., chairman of the panel’s Oversight Subcommittee, 100 IRS employees have been diagnosed with the virus, while four have died.
Neal and Lewis slammed the IRS’ decision to call certain employees into the office without providing PPE as “completely irresponsible and unethical.”
“The agency is expecting entirely too much of employees who are likely distraught over the health risks returning to work presents for themselves and for their families, as well as the potential repercussions they could face if they do not clock in on Monday with the mandated equipment in-hand,” the congressmen said in an April 25 statement.
They said the IRS shouldn’t require any essential employees to return to work until the agency can provide its employees with PPE.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.