NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

IRS Agents Claim To Fear Collection Activities

May 18, 1999

Claiming that they fear being dismissed for violating the new taxpayers' rights law, IRS collection agents have drastically scaled back their efforts to secure unpaid taxes.

  • Seizures of property are down 98 percent over the last two years.
  • Levies and garnishments of bank accounts and paychecks are just one-fourth the level of two years ago.
  • Filings of tax liens -- which assure that back taxes are paid when properties are sold -- are down two-thirds, the agency reports.
  • The government has not tallied lost revenue, but based on historic rates it expected to collect about $30 billion this year from enforcement actions.

The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 states that agency employees must be dismissed if -- following an administrative inquiry -- they are found to have committed any of 10 acts, including violating a taxpayer's constitutional or civil rights, threatening an audit for personal gain, making a false statement under oath or falsifying or destroying documents to conceal mistakes.

Noting that "this law deals with willful and serious misconduct," Tax Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti suggests that IRS employees are overreacting. In a March memo to the agency's 98,000 employees, he assured them that their jobs were safe unless they willfully abused taxpayers' rights.

No IRS employees have yet been disciplined under the new law, although 240 investigations were underway as of the end of March.

Source: David Cay Johnston, "Fearing for Jobs, IRS Workers Relax Effort to Get Unpaid Taxes," New York Times, May 18, 1999.


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