Editor’s note: Democrats’ so-called Inflation Reduction Act, passed by the Senate this weekend, would allow the IRS to hire 87,000 new agents.
There aren’t many gyms that employ obese personal trainers, or investment firms that retain bankrupt financial advisers. If they did, their business would certainly suffer.
But that’s precisely what the Internal Revenue Service did, according to a recent Treasury investigation. Between 2004 and 2013, the agency continued to employ, and even promote, nearly 1,000 employees who willfully lied on or failed to pay their own personal taxes.
Unfortunately, there’s no marketplace for tax collection and enforcement, so taxpayers can’t simply take their business elsewhere.
IRS employee tax compliance is an important component of the public’s trust in the IRS. That’s why there’s a special provision—Section 1203 of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998—that specifies termination for any IRS employee found guilty of willful violations of tax law. The IRS commissioner, however, has the final say and can “mitigate” violations to a lesser penalty.
That’s exactly what has happened an overwhelming majority of the time. Of nearly 1,600 cases of willful noncompliance by IRS employees between 2004 and 2013, only 25% resulted in terminations—14% retired or resigned and 61% received mere reprimanding, suspension, or counseling.
These statistics are particularly troubling when considering that tax noncompliance is not just a workplace faux pas. These employees effectively stole from their employer, and tax evasion is a felony.
The topline statistics of the investigation are troubling enough on their own, but a more detailed look at 34 sample cases revealed some particularly egregious findings:
- “Some employees, who management had concluded were not credible, with significant and sometimes repeated tax noncompliance issues, or a history of other conduct issues, were not terminated.”
- “Employees with similar violations received different discipline.”
- And despite “evidence that violations of tax law were willful … the basis for the Commissioner’s decision to mitigate was not clearly identified in the case files.”
Not only were noncompliant employees not fired, but:
- “108 of 364 employees [30%] with willful tax noncompliance cases closed between October 1, 2008 and September 20, 2013, received one or more awards, promotions, quality step increases, or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP) within one year after being disciplined for the tax noncompliance.”
Well, could it be that these employees were just confused? This example seems to suggest otherwise::
- Employees in tax compliance jobs claimed the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit for more than $7,500 although they did not purchase a home, and employees failed to report thousands of dollars in income.
And just when it seems the report can’t get any worse:
- Willfully noncompliant employees in tax compliance roles were less likely to be terminated than those in non-tax compliance positions: 62% of employees in tax compliance roles kept their jobs while only 46% of employees in non-tax compliance jobs kept them.
- Among the willfully noncompliant employees performing tax compliance jobs, 71% had multiple tax offenses and 52% had other non-tax-related conduct issues.
- Sixty percent of employees in tax compliance jobs who had multiple tax compliance offenses kept their jobs.
As tax collector, the IRS is never going to be voted America’s top government agency, but is should at least be considered trustworthy and competent.
When reports such as this surface, revealing the IRS’ failure to enforce tax compliance among its own employees, as well as recent findings of IRS employees targeting certain groups, it is hard to maintain trust and confidence in the IRS.
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