It’s hardly surprising that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) often receives low marks from American taxpayers. After all, simply filing your tax return can be a headache, let alone fighting for deductions or dealing with an audit. A recent survey conducted by Gallup found that Americans' view that the IRS was doing an "excellent" or "good" job has dropped from 50 to 37 percent in the last two years. It’s puzzling then that – with all the pressing issues facing our country today – some members of Congress are choosing to prioritize expanding the power and authority of the IRS at the expense of taxpayers and their privacy.
Progressive members of Congress, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are pushing to give the IRS the power and responsibility to prepare tax filings on behalf of all Americans, even though the private sector currently provides this service cheaply — many times at no cost — and efficiently. Frankly, anyone who has had to deal with the IRS knows first-hand why this is a bad idea.
First, and foremost, the primary function of the IRS is to raise and collect revenue for the federal government. An IRS-run “free” filing system would likely be built to represent government interests and would have no incentive to maximize taxpayer deductions or protect taxpayers from audits. On the other hand, certified professionals and tax preparation companies have every reason to help taxpayers take advantage of every deduction available to them. Many current tax filing services even provide refunds to users if another service gets them more money back.
Such a program would likely cost billions of dollars. TechNet recently published a white paper written by former Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, who served under President Obama. Scott found that, “any effort to have the IRS prepare Americans’ tax returns would be operationally impractical, prohibitively expensive, and likely fail to deliver the promised benefits.” Taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill for a massive new government program that the private sector has already successfully accomplished, especially with Congress pushing for massive new spending programs elsewhere.
The Biden administration is already pushing for a law that would require banks to report transactions over $600 to the IRS. A government-run “free” file system would further require the IRS to collect troves of information from taxpayers that it currently doesn’t have access to. Both proposals should be concerning to privacy advocates and taxpayers.
The IRS has already proven that it can’t be trusted with confidential information. In 2016, hackers breached the IRS and stole more than 700,000 Social Security numbers. In a 2017 legal settlement, the IRS apologized for using its authority to audit and unfairly scrutinize conservative organizations. Just this year, the IRS leaked sensitive tax records of the wealthiest Americans, records that showed absolutely zero wrongdoing, to the press. In addition, the IRS was also recently found to have not been properly sanitizing disposed computers of sensitive taxpayer data, exposing untold Americans’ sensitive information. Giving the IRS more authority could result in future administration’s targeting taxpayers, organizations or vulnerable populations, like immigrants and seniors, for any number of reasons.
Time is running out to prevent Congress from granting the IRS a massive increase in authority. Sen. Warren and her progressive allies in Congress are attempting to push this proposal into the massive spending package currently being debated in Washington. Taxpayers and privacy advocates in all 50 states must unite and urge members of Congress to say no to this shortsighted and dangerous proposal before it’s too late.