The IRS on Monday announced it is ending unannounced home visits by employees, reversing a decades-long policy to protect the safety of its 2,300 revenue officers and focus instead on communicating with taxpayers electronically.
The change is effective immediately. In its place, the agency will rely on digital communications and mailed letters to households with tax debt. These letters will schedule meetings with taxpayers, thereby providing them with adequate notice to compile records and eliminate the burden of multiple future meetings, agency leaders told reporters on July 24.
“Here’s another way of putting it: starting today, if someone’s ringing your doorbell, it’s extremely unlikely to be an IRS collection employee unless you made an appointment for a home visit,” Commissioner Danny Werfel said, who was confirmed to the position in March.
That’s partly because knocking on someone’s door today is a different scenario than it was 10 or 15 years ago, he said. Wuerfel told reporters he’s heard from employees that they don’t feel safe making site visits, though he didn’t comment specifically on whether there has been a recent surge in attacks on employees.
However, it’s been documented by the Department of Treasury’s watchdog that “anti-government or anti-tax groups with malevolent intent” may use publicly available data or social media to threaten or intimidate IRS employees and their families.
And last summer, after the landmark $80 billion Inflation Reduction Act passed, fear of threats against employees fueled by rumors of scores of “armed” IRS agents led to the agency conducting a security review of its facilities.
It’s a misconception that revenue officers go after small compliance issues; the median debt that these employees seek to recover is $110,000, so home visits were not intended to focus on small debts, Werfel said.
Some impromptu visits will still be conducted in limited circumstances, including services of a summons and subpoena, asset seizures and other “sensitive” enforcement activities. Criminal investigators are also not affected by this policy change.
“But these activities are just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of visits that have taken place in the past,” Werfel said. “To put this in perspective, these visits typically number a few 100 each year, a small fraction compared to the tens of thousands of unannounced visits that typically occurred annually under the old policy.”
Site visitations have also been exploited by IRS scam artists who try to impersonate employees, which is another reason Werfel made the decision to stop the practice.
Werfel credited the National Treasury Employees Union for raising these concerns on behalf of its 70,000 members who also work for the IRS.
“Unfortunately, the hostile rhetoric and false claims about IRS employees have made their work more dangerous in recent years,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon in a statement. “It is outrageous that our nation’s civil servants have to live in fear just because they chose a career in public service.”
The measure will also allow the agency to focus its resources and historically understaffed workforce on modernization initiatives that are integral to the agency’s strategic operating plan that published in May.
Werfel said efforts are underway to expand the public’s use of online accounts, where e-letters and notices can be authenticated so taxpayers know it’s real communication from the federal government.
For those who may still rely on written notices, agency leaders said they’re working on ways to ensure those are easy to identify as official notices and not scam attempts.
Though this plan directly affects IRS revenue officers, the agency is staffing up in all positions to address years of insufficient funding while the tax system has grown, both in the complexity of its laws and in the demands made of it.
For 2023, tax returns due April 15, 2024.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.