The IRS says its 87,000 new hires could help collect as much as $1 trillion — by forcing tax cheats to pay up. But will more 'fire-breathing dragons' really do the trick?

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The IRS says its 87,000 new hires could help raise up to $1 trillion - by forcing tax dodgers to pay. But will more "fire-breathing dragons" really be enough?
Get ready, ultra-rich Americans: President Joe Biden wants you to start paying your share.
Through the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden plans to increase funding for the IRS to help the agency catch sneaky tax evaders — particularly those high earners who love to find loopholes.
A Treasury Department report from May 2021 estimated that the extra money would allow the agency to hire around 87,000 new employees by 2031 - which could include financial agents and customer service and IT staff.
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Proponents believe the increased funding could rake in as much as $1 trillion by forcing tax dodgers to pay their dues, especially after years of budget cuts have eroded the system.
However, some critics fear that increased taxpayer scrutiny could backfire in a big way.
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The $80 billion in funding spread over the next 10 years will help the IRS modernize its infrastructure, improve enforcement and replace its aging workforce (50,000 of the IRS's 80,000 employees are expected to retire over the next five years walk).
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The agency has reportedly been underfunded by about 20% for a decade, causing it to cut both staff and technology updates.
Bogged down by a processing system more than half a century old and a backlog that includes millions of unprocessed paper files, the IRS has been in need of more resources and support for some time.
Customer service is also understaffed. During the 2022 filing season, the IRS received approximately 73 million calls from taxpayers — but only 10% were actually answered.
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"The combination of more than 21 million unprocessed paper tax returns, more than 14 million notifications of math errors, eight-month backlogs in processing tax correspondence, and exceptional difficulty in reaching the IRS by phone made this filing season particularly challenging," said the National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins wrote in her mid-year report to Congress.
Adding to these problems, former IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig estimated in 2021 that the agency is losing $1 trillion in unpaid taxes every year -- largely due to tax evasion by the wealthy and big corporations. He also pointed out that they could slip through the cracks in part due to the lightly regulated cryptocurrency market, revenue from foreign sources, and abuse of pass-through regulations.
Rettig has long pushed for an increase in funding "to lure the fire-breathing dragons" to hold scammers accountable.
Could strengthening enforcement do more harm than good?
Proponents argue the funding will help close the "tax gap" by helping to catch more tax evaders.
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Of the $80 billion total, $45.6 billion has been allocated to increased enforcement - which will be used to hire more law enforcement officers, provide legal assistance and invest in "investigative technology" to determine who is investigating should be and who shouldn't.
But not everyone is thrilled with the news.
"You're not going to get that 'magic money,'" Brian Reardon told Bloomberg. Reardon is the President of the S Corporation Association, which represents privately held small businesses that pass taxes on to their shareholders.
“When you dial up enforcement on people who otherwise play by the rules and pay what they owe, you breed resentment and anger. They undermine people's trust in the tax system.”
However, the Biden administration claims that the increased enforcement will focus on the ultra-wealthy and large companies and is not intended for small businesses or households earning less than $400,000 a year.
Treasury Department research shows that the top 1% of Americans could evade as much as $163 billion in taxes each year.
Although Eli Akhavan, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson in New York, expects audits to increase, he has told his wealthy clients that they have "nothing to worry about except a few headaches" provided they heed good advice and have their " ducks in a row".
"If there's nothing to find, there's nothing to find," says Akhavan.
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