The GOP has long made it their mission to absolutely disable the IRS, thus protecting the wealthiest of the wealthy from any sort of scrutiny. And it's been working: as ProPublica reported in 2019, millionaires in 2018 were about 80% less likely to be audited than they were in 2011; coincidentally (or not), the IRS's budget for enforcement has been reduced by a quarter since 2011, too.
Paul Kiel at ProPublica has been focusing on this issue for a while now. At the end of the day, federal organizations are supposed to be designed to be apolitical — regardless of the exaggerated claims of Obama bias by, again, the GOP — and the IRS still has a mandate to, ya know, make sure that everyone's taxes are fairly collected. But ProPublica's latest reporting explores the ways the department's mandate and budget have been rigged to push them towards picking on the poor, instead of the people who are actually hoarding substantial amounts of money:
On the one hand, the IRS said, auditing poor taxpayers is a lot easier: The agency uses relatively low-level employees to audit returns for low-income taxpayers who claim the earned income tax credit. The audits — of which there were about 380,000 last year, accounting for 39% of the total the IRS conducted — are done by mail and don't take too much staff time, either. They are "the most efficient use of available IRS examination resources," Rettig's report says.
On the other hand, auditing the rich is hard. It takes senior auditors hours upon hours to complete an exam. What's more, the letter says, "the rate of attrition is significantly higher among these more experienced examiners." As a result, the budget cuts have hit this part of the IRS particularly hard.
For now, the IRS says, while it agrees auditing more wealthy taxpayers would be a good idea, without adequate funding there's nothing it can do. "Congress must fund and the IRS must hire and train appropriate numbers of [auditors] to have appropriately balanced coverage across all income levels," the report said.
It's not so dissimilar from the ways that lawmakers have clubbed the US Postal Service at the kneecaps — deliberately exploit the budget to limit and control the department so they have no real choice but to serve the agendas of the wealthiest and most poor-hating powers in the country. Maybe the proper scrutiny on the Kochs or, say, Donald Trump would ultimately have a better ROI for the country as a whole. But the time and effort required to prove those inevitable results is also enough to discourage them. If it took 4 years for the New York Times to identify Trump's $72 million advanced tax refund, imagine how long it would take for the IRS to turn that into something legally actionable. In the meantime, they still need to prove their value, so they pick away at smaller amounts of money owed over a shorter time instead.
Where in the US are you most likely to be audited by the IRS? [Paul Kiel / Hannah Fresques / ProPublica]
It's Getting Worse: The IRS Now Audits Poor Americans at About the Same Rate as the Top 1% [Paul Kiel / ProPublica]
How The IRS Was Gutted [Paul Kiel / ProPublica]
Who's More Likely to Be Audited: A Person Making $20,000 — or $400,000? [Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger / ProPublica]
Image: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr (CC 2.0)