The IRS Cannot Define “Fair”

The Internal Revenue Service is apparently having a hard time with crafting procedures that would ensure fairness with respect to audits. The Washington Times reports:

The IRS leaves it up to individual employees to decide what’s “fair” in audits, meaning the tax agency sometimes uses arbitrary criteria in deciding whom to review, the government’s chief watchdog said Wednesday in a report Republicans seized on as proof that unfair targeting could still be going on.

The Government Accountability Office did not find evidence of political targeting in two new reports on small business and individual audits, but said without defining what it means to be fair, the IRS could end up unknowingly playing favorites between different groups of taxpayers.

Piggybacking on the IRS‘ targeting of tea party groups from 2010 through 2013, the new reports left Republicans on Capitol Hill miffed that the tax agency still hasn’t taken steps to make sure all taxpayers are treated the same.

“The American people deserve better. We must do more to ensure the IRS treats all Americans fairly, holds employees responsible for these abuses accountable and implements procedures to prevent this abuse from ever happening again,” said Rep. Peter J. Roskam, an Illinois Republican who helped lead one of the investigations into the IRS targeting.

GAO investigators said the IRS division that audits individuals’ returns gauges its performance by looking at whether it forces better compliance on taxpayers, but doesn’t measure itself on fairness or integrity.

“These audit goals do not refer to fairness and integrity because these terms have not been defined by IRS,” the investigators said.

The article continues:

The same held true for the IRS‘ division that audits small businesses and the self-employed, where investigators said they held eight focus groups and employees weren’t able to settle on a single definition of what “fairness” meant when they were handling audits.

Some agency employees said it meant ignoring a taxpayer’s name or location; others said fairness included accounting for the different costs of living depending on where taxpayers lived. The investigators said those definitions could be mutually exclusive — creating even more confusion in what it meant to be fair to taxpayers, and leaving some treated differently than others.

“Without a clear definition of fairness that has been communicated to staff, [the division] has less assurance that its staff consistently treat all taxpayers fairly,” the investigators said.

In other words, business as usual. 

Well... it is pretty convincing... I must say...
Chelsea Broadsides Sanders
  • Commander_Chico

    Someone in my reserve unit who worked for the IRS told me they have algorithms to pull out the returns to be audited.

    She would not tell me the criteria with which the algos were set, a secret she said. This was back in the 90s.

    • jim_m

      OF course they have algorithms to select returns for audits. It would be idotioc for them not to. However, they also audit based on referrals from elected officials.

      Accusations of political targeting have not been about individual tax returns but primarily around tax status applications by conservative groups. It has also been demonstrated that some individuals have been targeted for audit with amazing frequency.

      Lastly, the article seems to say that the audits themselves were not biased while not directly addressing the targeting claims.

      • Scalia

        I read it as saying that though no explicit targeting has been identified as of late, their refusal to implement objective standards to prevent targeting means that nothing substantive has changed.

      • Commander_Chico

        If you met the conditions of the algos again and again you would be audited again and again.

        Certain types of deductions, relative to income I suppose.

        • Jwb10001

          For a guy that see conspiracies behind every rock you sure are going easy on the IRS? Wonder if that will change once a republican is president? Edit: make that a war monger, chickenhawk, neo con, oligarch, Cheney manipulated, high on anthrax republican president.

          • Commander_Chico

            I know there are targeted audits. Nixon did a few.

            Lerner’s lost emails stink, yes.

        • jim_m

          No. algorithms should take into account if they had been previously audited because audits are not for just the current year. This would amount to mandating unnecessary rework.