The Biden administration’s American Families Plan — released in late April and designed to fund educational opportunities and support families’ childcare needs — will rely on the IRS being able to significantly expand its workforce, according to the tax compliance agenda released by the Department of Treasury on Thursday.
That agenda notes that declining budgets and a shrinking workforce have meant that the IRS has been unable to fully audit and pursue individuals and companies that are not fully paying their taxes, causing the federal government as a whole to lose out on a portion of the revenue it should be taking in.
“In real terms, the IRS’s overall budget declined by 18.5 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2021. The IRS’s enforcement budget decreased by 15 percent over this time period, leading to a 20 percent decline in the IRS workforce. These losses have been most significant for revenue officers who collect taxes (50 percent decrease) and revenue agents who audit complex returns (35 percent decrease),” the report states.
“Today, the IRS has fewer auditors than at any time since World War II. As experienced employees have retired, the IRS has been unable to replace departing workers with new revenue officers and with agents of comparable training and skills necessary to pursue the most complicated noncompliance cases.”
Pursuit of those complicated noncompliance cases can yield significant benefits, as the agency estimates that for every $1 spent on compliance efforts, $4 is brought into the agency that would otherwise go unpaid.
“The decreases in audit rates are most pronounced for highly complex audits performed by experienced agents. Among individual taxpayers, audits of taxpayers with income over $1 million have fallen by over 60 percent between 2010–2018, with the audit rate decreasing from 8.4 percent to 3.2 percent,” the report states.
And existing IRS workers cannot simply be shifted over to conduct the highest-value audits, as the global high wealth, partnership, or large and complex business examinations are often extremely complicated and require specialized training to assess.
The agency is requesting an $80 billion increase in its budget over the next ten years to address the existing workforce gaps, as well as make investments in IT infrastructure and service improvements. Those investments are predicted to return a minimum of $320 billion.
“Because the expansion in the IRS’s budget is phased in over a 10-year horizon, each year the IRS’s workforce should grow by no more than a manageable 15 percent. By the end of the decade, however, the IRS’s budget would be roughly 40 percent above 2011 levels in real terms as a result of this proposal,” the report states.
“The IRS’s new workforce would include additional dedicated customer service representatives ready to assist taxpayers as they navigate newly expanded programs like the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.”
The report’s estimates program integrity investments — which cover the taxpayer compliance enforcement that the agency conducts — is predicted to add just over 5,000 new personnel by 2023.
The investments in workforce and IT are in line with IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig’s October 2020 request for “consistent, timely and adequate multi-year funding” from the House Oversight and Reform Committee in order to overcome the agency’s “gutted workforce and anachronistic IT systems.”
“It’s gratifying to see investments in the IRS workforce front and center in the administration’s plan to improve compliance and customer service,” National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.
“We wholeheartedly concur that a fully-staffed, more robust IRS is the ticket to a fairer tax system for all. Treasury’s plan is a full 180-degree turn away from 10 years of budget cuts that slashed the IRS workforce and starved the agency of the resources it needs to function as intended”
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.