Just how harshly does the IRS treat tax cheats within its own agency? Are IRS employees who don’t pay their taxes still being rewarded with bonuses and paid time off in 2016? Newly obtained documents reveal the answers: not very, and the IRS isn’t telling.
In 2015, the IRS disciplined nearly 500 of its employees for either not filing their tax returns, filing late, or understating their tax liability. However, the agency only terminated five of its workers for these offenses. The information was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Committee for Efficient Government (CFEG) on April 7, 2016.
The request sought data relevant to the number of employees within the agency who have been punished for irregularities with their tax returns in the last two years, as well as information pertaining to the amount of money the Treasury may still be owed as a result.
The agency’s reply reveals that, in 2015, 378 IRS employees were disciplined for understating their tax liability, while 121 employees were punished for not filing their tax returns or filing late. In 2016, the IRS disciplined 38 of its employees for late filing or non-filing and 72 others for understating their tax liability. As noted above, the IRS fired only five of its employees in 2015 for non-filed or late-filed tax returns and terminated four more in 2016.
While the IRS provided data regarding the total number of employees who were disciplined (items 1, 2, and 3 in the FOIA request embedded below), the agency claims they “found no documents specifically responsive” to the dollar amount owed to the Treasury by IRS employees, the amount of money the IRS has collected from delinquent employees, or the number of employees who have received promotions or bonuses in the last six years while delinquent with their taxes (items 4 through 9).
Following a damning report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) in March 2014, the IRS promised to clean up its act.
The report revealed that not only were IRS employees not being fired for not paying their taxes, they were still receiving performance bonuses despite their misconduct. TIGTA stated that between October 1, 2010, and December 31, 2012, more than 1,100 IRS employees who failed to pay their taxes received “more than $1 million in cash awards [and] more than 10,000 hours in time-off awards.”
TIGTA followed up with a report in May 2015 that showed thousands of IRS employees had “willfully evaded” their tax obligations over a 10-year period. From 2004 through 2013, TIGTA discovered 18,300 cases in which IRS workers were delinquent in their taxes. Of those cases, 1,580 employees — an average of nearly 160 per year — were caught deliberately not paying their taxes. The majority of those caught were not fired, according to the report, and some even received promotions and discretionary bonuses as well.
This all despite the fact that the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, also known as the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights III,” explicitly calls for IRS employees to be fired if they are found to have willfully failed to pay the taxes that they owe. Only the IRS commissioner — John Koskinen as of December 23, 2013 — can waive this penalty.
“Given its critical role in federal tax administration, the IRS must ensure that its employees comply with the tax law in order to maintain the public’s confidence,” Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George said at the time of his report in 2015. “Willful violation of the law by IRS employees should not be taken lightly.”
Tax Revolution Institute Legal Director Robert Rodrigo says, however, that this issue goes beyond a matter of “fairness.”
“Government employees take an oath to the follow the laws they are enforcing,” he said. “Clearly, the government officials who have decided to allow these tax evaders to continue to be employed by the IRS are enforcing the law more leniently for them than they do for you or I.”
According to the AP, the IRS claims to have “started denying performance bonuses to employees who willfully fail to pay their taxes” in 2014, and uses a screening process twice a year to single out workers who may owe back taxes.
However, in response to CFEG’s FOIA request for any data or statistics that may offer insight into this process and its results, the IRS claims that no such documents exist.
Meanwhile, CFEG plans to appeal the denial of these records and is gearing up for potential litigation to ensure that the IRS lives up to its promise of “transparency.”