Using Taxpayer Records for Personal Reasons Leads to Removal

An agency has a core mission. An employee’s action in one agency may be a relatively minor problem; in another agency it may be a firing offense. The Internal Revenue Service has strict rules about accessing taxpayer records–presumably because taxpayer records are related to its core mission. When this IRS employee accessed these records for personal reasons, she was fired despite her contention a medical condition was the basis for the problem.

The Internal Revenue Service does not tolerate its employees accessing taxpayer information for personal reasons. One IRS employee, fired for this offense, has found no sympathy at the Merit Systems Protection Board, or the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. (Albritton v. Department of the Treasury, C.A.F.C. No. 2008-3075 (nonprecedential), 4/14/08)

Albritton was a Tax Examining Technician. She made unauthorized accesses to taxpayer records supposedly to try to locate her son and her niece’s ex-husband. (Opinion, pp. 1-2)

The agency strictly prohibits unauthorized access, provides routine training for its employees warning them that such activity violates agency rules and federal law, and requires its employees to sign statements indicating that they understand these rules. Albritton signed several statements verifying that she had received the training and that she understood the consequences, including the possibility of removal. (p. 2)

In spite of being aware of the consequences, Albritton violated the policy and the IRS fired her. She did not deny her actions, but argued that she had a medical condition that led her to do it. (p. 2)

The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed Albritton’s removal as reasonable after finding that the agency had weighed all the relevant factors before reaching its decision, including Albritton’s medical condition claim. (p. 3)

Albritton took her case to the Federal Circuit and argued that the removal penalty was not appropriate. The court, concluding that her removal was “well within the bounds of reasonableness,” pointed out that Congress has “made clear that the unauthorized access to tax payers records is a serious offense.” (pp. 3-4)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.