Uncle Sam’s tax collector needs executive officers, tax specialists, internal revenue agents and criminal investigators, in addition to the usual tax-season help it hires to handle the millions of returns filed every year.
Arguably the nation’s most feared agency, the IRS sells itself as “among the most well-trained and intelligent workforces anywhere.”
“We are the IRS, where America’s growth begins: giving rise to our nation’s vital programs, from powering NASA … to preserving parklands … to providing matching funds for communities across the country. More than that, we are one of the largest financial institutions in the world, leveraging the latest in mini- and micro-computers, telecommunications, and data management systems,” says the advertisement for internal revenue agents. “In essence, we are the perfect place to maximize your career.”
There are “many vacancies throughout the nation” for 13 different IRS jobs, including revenue agents, who earn from $23,633 to $46,546 annually.
Special agents in the IRS’ criminal investigation unit spend 10 weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., where they learn, among other things, interviewing and firearms training. Candidates for the position go on to a 16-week course in tax law, criminal tax fraud, money laundering and a variety of financial fraud schemes. They are also introduced to agency-specific undercover operations, electronic surveillance techniques, forensic sciences, court procedures, trial preparation and testifying. In addition to meeting various academic and physical requirements, special agents must also undergo an IRS audit.
Former Special Agent Joe Banister is perhaps the most well-known of the IRS’ enforcement team. Resigning his post in the criminal investigation unit in February 1999, Banister is now a popular figure in what is commonly known as the “tax-protester” or “tax-honesty” movement. After conducting his own research, Banister concluded that most Americans are not required to file income taxes. He is now a certified public accountant in the Silicon Valley.
The job vacancies are being advertised on the IRS’ website while the Senate considers beefing up the agency so it can more readily crack down on tax cheats. In a hearing Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee heard criticism from witnesses that the IRS let too many tax scams fall through the cracks. There are a growing number of “educated” non-filers who, like Banister, believe they are not required to file tax returns and who get their information largely from Internet-based organizations. Together, participants in tax-evasion schemes and non-filers are withholding approximately $300 billion that should be paid by individuals and employers, said committee members last week.
IRS statistics for fiscal-year 1999 show that enforcement actions resulted in a $1.3 billion decline in unpaid tax collections — a decrease amounting to only a fraction of the $1.8 trillion in taxes collected that year. Yet some government officials fear a continued decline will lead to the eventual breakdown of the U.S. tax system.
Several factors have been cited as the cause of the decline in collections, including the steady reduction of some 15,000 agency employees over the last few years, as well as the temporary shift of some collections agents to other duties, such as answering taxpayer telephone queries. Also blamed is the 2-year-old requirement that the IRS must prove a taxpayer is delinquent — a change from previous policy which put the burden of proof on the taxpayer’s shoulders.
The IRS Restructuring Reform Act of 1998, sponsored by Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, granted several other new rights to taxpayers accused by the IRS of owing more money to the government, and included a section dealing with Service employees who violate those taxpayers’ rights.
Now the agency is advertising for more employees to help pick up the slack. In the hearing last week, committee members and witnesses also discussed shutting down websites that promote tax scams and suggest to citizens that they are not required to pay income taxes.