No, Biden isn’t hiring 87,000 new IRS agents – ZEIT | Vette Leader

SSince it was revealed Monday that the FBI had searched the South Florida home of former President Donald Trump, Republican congressmen and right-wing media figures have launched a new line of attack against Democrats: that the Internal Revenue Service intends to search nearly $80 billion in new funds Means to use funding to track similar invaders on average Americans. Those dollars, Trump allies say, will be used to hire 87,000 new IRS agents.

“Are you making $75,000 or less?” tweeted Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader. “The Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will come for you — with 710,000 new audits for Americans making under $75,000.” Richard Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, wrote on the social media platform: “FBI raids Trump’s home and Democrats vote to hire 87,000 new IRS agents to go after Americans. Wake up America.”

Other high-profile conservatives have indicated that the Biden administration intends to direct these additional scrutinizers to dig up dirt on the president’s political opponents. “What do you think the Left plans to use these 87,000 new IRS agents for after today’s Mar A Lago raid?” tweeted Senator Marco Rubio.

It’s an idea that has removed like wildfiresignaling what will likely be a prominent Republican versus Democrat broadside in the midterm elections.

There’s only one problem. It is not true.

The Anti-Inflation Act, a landmark climate, health and tax package passed by the Senate on Sunday and expected to go to Biden’s desk after approval by the House of Representatives on Friday, includes about $78 billion to phase the IRS over ten years . A May 2021 Treasury Department report estimated that such an investment would allow the agency to hire around 87,000 employees by 2031. However, most of these hires would not be accountants and would not be new positions.

According to a Treasury Department official, the funds would cover a wide range of positions, including IT technicians and taxpayer support staff, as well as experienced accountants broadly tasked with cracking down on high-income corporate and tax evaders.

“To describe any of these resources as addressing increased auditing of the middle class or small businesses is grossly inaccurate,” Natasha Sarin, tax policy and enforcement adviser at the Treasury Department, told TIME.

At the same time, more than half of the agency’s current staff are eligible for retirement and are expected to leave the agency within the next five years. “There’s a big churn coming, and a lot of these resources are just to fill those positions,” says Sarin, an economist who has studied tax avoidance extensively and was tapped by the Biden administration to bolster the IRS’s auditing powers .

Overall, the IRS could add about 20,000 to 30,000 more employees from the new funding, enough to bring the tax collection agency’s staff back to where it was about a decade ago.

The IRS currently has around 78,000 employees. That’s down from around 100,000 when he started, according to John Koskinen, who served as IRS commissioner from 2013 to 2017. When he resigned four years later, he said, it was clear the agency was in the grip of a systematic attempt by the GOP to weaken it.

“No one loves tax collectors,” Koskinen told TIME.

It’s an effort that dates back to 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives and immediately implemented a series of crippling cuts to the IRS. Since then, overall funding for the IRS has continued to fall by more than 20 percent, while enforcement funding has declined 31 percent. This has made it easier for wealthy tax dodgers and big corporations to evade billions of dollars in federal taxes.

“The audit rate of the largest corporations in the United States with assets over $20 billion has increased from nearly 100% to 50%,” said Janet Holtzblattt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “For wealthy individuals who had positive income of $1 million or more, the exam rate dropped from 8.4% in 2010 to 2.4% in 2019.”

Meanwhile, staffing shortages only made it harder for the average American to reach IRS customer service, which was inundated with inquiries well beyond what the staff could handle. “I’ve always said there’s no Democratic or Republican way to run the IRS,” Koskinen says. “The people who are significantly disadvantaged are the average taxpayer who has a simple question and doesn’t get through it. That includes Republicans as well as Independents and Democrats.” Last month, the IRS backlog contained 10.2 million unprocessed individual returns.

Funds from the Anti-Inflation Act are also being used for technical modernization. The IRS currently uses a 1960’s technology called COBOL to process and collect individual tax returns. According to government officials, the agency is struggling to find workers who are still able to code under the outdated system.

The increased funding for the IRS is a key part of the Democrats’ plan to pay for the anti-inflation bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the agency will increase its revenue by $204 billion over the next decade by more vigorously investigating tax evasion and improving compliance.

But while the IRS is in dire need of more funding, it’s not the favorite government agency of most Americans. Nobody likes to give Uncle Sam a big check. That’s a big reason Republicans are likely to keep pounding on this point in the coming months, potentially pointing to 87,000 new IRS agents that will never materialize.

“I think a lot of people across the country and across the political spectrum are going to be upset about this,” Hogan Gidley, Trump’s former deputy White House press secretary, tells TIME when asked about the IRS funding. He incorrectly described the Biden administration’s plan as hiring “85,000 IRS agents looking for mom and pop deals.”

But if Gidley is right, Americans will only be angry at what Republicans are telling them about the IRS — not what’s actually happening there.

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