The Internal Revenue Service has the power to garnish wages, demand documents and open criminal investigations related to financial crimes. A federal agency this powerful and far-reaching should be transparent, accessible and forthcoming, yet the IRS isn’t.
Administering the tax code and collecting taxes from hardworking Americans is a tall order; however, taxpayers are right to insist on reasonable customer service standards. Too many Arkansans can attest to the IRS’s abysmal performance in this respect, including over 350 who have contacted my office for help this year.
One major problem: inquiring by phone can often lead nowhere. In fact, after spending an inordinate time on hold waiting to speak to a human being, the IRS will eventually provide a “courtesy disconnect” since it recognizes no one will be available to take the call anytime soon. And that’s hardly the only issue.
Taxpayer advocates and congressional offices often make inquiries on behalf of confused, distressed and discouraged taxpayers who are trying to respond to demands from the IRS related to their financial records or waiting to receive their tax returns –– for paper filers this year the agency says to expect at least 16 weeks before you receive a response while 1040X filers amending a return can expect to wait 20 weeks for an answer.
Even more troubling, the agency has been used as a political tool in the past – it admitted to systematically targeting conservative tax-exempt groups from 2010 to 2012 – and many current IRS employees spend much of their time on the job completing tasks unrelated to their official duties, called Taxpayer-Funded Union Time.
This shouldn’t be the case. Yet now the Biden administration wants to arm the U.S. tax collection entity with more authority and manpower to pay for its reckless spending agenda.
The president has proposed requiring all financial institutions to report to the IRS deposits and withdrawals of $600 or more from business and personal accounts maintained by federally regulated banking services. Currently, the reporting requirement is for transactions $10,000 or higher.
Not only does this proposed expansion of the IRS’s ability to surveil taxpayers raise legitimate privacy concerns, but it will also burden community financial institutions by imposing additional, unnecessary costs that will ultimately get passed onto consumers.
In 2015 the agency was hit by a cyberattack that allowed criminals to gain access to the tax returns of more than 100,000 Americans. Imagine what risk our financial information and data would be exposed to if the IRS compiles records of every bank transaction amounting to over $600.
House Democrats have, thus far, declined to throw their weight behind this flawed policy rewrite. Yet the White House remains committed to it, and Senate Democrats will have to decide whether they want to join the Biden administration in pursuit of this troubling proposition.
I’m fighting back to protect our privacy and keep the IRS off the backs of taxpayers, community banks and credit unions. I’ve joined U.S. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) in introducing the Tax Gap Reform and Internal Revenue Service Enforcement Act which would prevent the IRS from establishing a new bank account information reporting regime.
I’ve also helped introduce legislation – the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act – to ensure it prioritizes taxpayers’ needs by requiring employees to be fully devoted to helping Americans meet their tax responsibilities during tax season. Additionally, I’m a sponsor of the Don’t Weaponize the IRS Act which protects groups regardless of their political ideology or beliefs, and prevents the IRS from doxing donors to these groups.
The IRS must get its priorities straight, and providing adequate customer service to taxpayers must be at the top of the list. I will continue to hold the agency accountable and oppose attempts to expand its reach.
John Boozman is a U.S. Senator from Arkansas. He is a Republican.