Yes, the IRS hires criminal investigators who have the authority to use deadly force — but here’s an important context

Business at the Internal Revenue Service is starting to heat up as the tax agency seeks an $80 billion budget increase as part of Democrats’ proposed spending plan — and now attention is turning intensely to IRS staffers, who are actually packing heat.

It began with criticism from Republican leaders that the Internal Revenue Service would hire 87,000 new employees to “appeal to normal, everyday Americans” with the $80 billion earmarked for the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act’s reconciliation bill, which will soon become law target. According to the Associated Press, that’s a “misleading” claim.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 220-207 vote on Friday and now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk to go into effect.

For the past few days, there has been excitement online about job postings for IRS special agents to carry weapons as part of their work with the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Although the job is actually about tracking down income and accounting irregularities to build legal cases, one of the potential duties is ‘conduct’.[ing] or participate[ing] E.g. in surveillance, armed escorts, protection of dignitaries, undercover investigations, execution of search and arrest warrants, seizures, etc.,” the job posting reads.

There are 300 positions open for this role, which is listed as paying between $50,704 and $89,636 annually.

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Although the job posting drew renewed attention this week, it’s nothing new that some IRS special agents have had to use potentially deadly force, an IRS Criminal Investigation Department spokeswoman confirmed.

“The job description is consistent with previous announcements by special agents for the same position and with announcements by other federal law enforcement agencies,” the spokeswoman said, noting that the IRS Criminal Investigation Department alone is the federal government’s sixth-largest law enforcement agency.

Some context follows for listing the special agents and the broader debate about more resources for the IRS.

As a starting point, the estimate that the IRS would hire 87,000 new employees in 2021 came from the Treasury Department, the AP noted. It would be a multi-year hiring plan and would include additional chartered accountants as well as a number of other retired jobs and other IRS attritions, the AP added.

IRS ranks have shrunk over the years. The IRS’s annual data book shows it had nearly 79,000 full-time employees last fiscal year, down nearly 13% from fiscal 2012.

Data shows that the Criminal Investigation Division makes up only a fraction of the IRS’s total staff. The division has around 3,000 employees, 2,100 of whom are sworn representatives, according to the spokeswoman.

As the agency’s workforce has decreased, so has the IRS’s audit rate among taxpayers of all income levels. Government data shows that the decline is particularly sharp among higher earners.

More than half of the $80 billion in additional funding in the Inflation Reduction Act would be earmarked for better tax compliance. Officials including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, a Trump-elected head of the agency in 2018, have pledged the additional enforcement will not target small businesses or households earning less than $400,000.

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“Contrary to misinformation from opponents of this legislation, small businesses or households making $400,000 a year or less will not see an increase in their chances of being audited,” Yellen said.

According to a Morning Consult/Politico poll on Wednesday, three-quarters of voters say they are not personally concerned about being audited by a better-funded IRS. More than half, 56%, said they were generally not worried about more audits.

The Inflation Reduction Act is now awaiting Biden’s signature, and the Democratic President has previously said he will sign the law. From that point forward, a broader expectation of lawmakers would be expected from the IRS later, tax experts said — and some worry too few resources are still being devoted to helping regular taxpayers with questions.

The $80 billion — again, that’s spread out over a decade — would be in addition to the agency’s annual budget. The funding debate is heated, with some observers saying the IRS needs every penny and others saying it doesn’t need any extra cash.

For example, Mark Everson, who served as IRS commissioner during the George W. Bush administration from 2003 to 2007, said the agency needed more money, but not on that scale. Additional, inflation-adjusted funds of about 3% to 5% are a better bet for manageable growth, said Everson, vice chairman of Alliantgroup, a specialist tax services firm.

“The IRS has to be extremely careful when it comes to ramping up,” he said, adding that “they have to find the right people.” That applies within the criminal department, he said.

The department itself is “a relatively small part of the agency, but very important, both in terms of the role it plays in criminal tax issues and in supporting other violations of the law, including terrorism and corporate fraud.”

CID officers must be involved in law enforcement efforts because “financial information is often an important element of federal criminal investigations,” Everson said. “They play an essential role.”

The WorldCom and Enron scandals and criminal cases are two cases in which the division played a significant role, Everson said. More recently, the department was involved in the 2013 shutdown of the underground website Silk Road, which was promoting the sale of drugs and illegal services through the emergence of Bitcoin BTCUSD.
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as a means of payment.

In fiscal year 2021, the IRS closed nearly 2,800 criminal investigations, most of which resulted in referrals to prosecutors. These included more than 1,000 cases related to tax crimes such as evasion; 979 financial crimes including money laundering; and 735 drug-related financial crimes.

In the long term, the strain on the criminal police is also evident. In fiscal 2011, the department completed nearly 4,700 investigations, according to IRS data.

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