If there was any organization that might be expected to bring the hammer down on employees who don’t pay their taxes, it’s the IRS. But according to a new report from the inspector general, the men and women responsible for collecting the nation’s tax debts are not so good about paying their own share. Nearly 1,600 IRS employees failed to pay their taxes correctly over a decade. Worse, more than half of the offenders kept their jobs due to interference from the commissioner.
According to the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act, any IRS employees who are caught cheating on their tax returns are to be fired. The only exception is for those employees whose jobs are directly saved by the commissioner. Saving those jobs must keep IRS officials fairly busy, because of 1,580 tax cheats, only 620 lost their jobs as a result of their illegal doings. The rest were either subject to no discipline at all or lesser forms of punishment such as suspension and counseling.
Isn’t that lovely? Try cheating on your own taxes and see what happens. See how long it is before the IRS finds you, audits you, and sees to it that you face life-destroying penalties for depriving the federal government of your hard-earned dollars. Yet if you go to work for the tax collectors, you may get off with nothing more than a warning.
For their part, the IRS says that the inspector general’s report doesn’t tell the whole story. With a 99 percent compliance rate, they claim to have a better tax record than any other federal agency. Perhaps that’s true. But the defense rings a little hollow when it comes from the agency synonymous with taxation. Hypocrisy is a trait seldom tolerated by the American public, and there’s no other way to describe the leniency afforded to IRS employees.
Republicans looking to give their presidential campaigns a unique flavor might do well to add IRS reform to their platforms. Tax reform is a given, but we also need to think long and hard about the way those taxes are administered. There are strong arguments for the full abolition of the IRS, though that might come off as a little too radical for candidates who want to win over the independents. Restructuring, better oversight, and a simplification of the tax code would do for a start.
On the broader scale, we ought to start thinking about what American life might be like without income taxes at all. That’s obviously not the kind of major shift in policy that can happen overnight, but there’s nothing wrong with tossing ideas around. Some have espoused a national sales tax. Others have advocated the kind of mass privatization that would decrease the size of the federal government to the point where taxes would shrink to almost nothing. One thing is certain: in a country that has made so many radical changes in the way human beings live their lives, reducing the tax burden should not be an impossibility.
But in the meantime, people should pay what they owe. Including the collectors themselves.