The new IRS chief has said his agency will loosen its kinder, gentler face to remove the gloves and get tough with those who cheat their taxes. He plans to boost audit rates, enforcement action and more effective ways of capturing uncollection billions.

IRS chief Mark Everson said his agency is not going to abandon all the customer-service initiatives launched in the 1990s to address claims the IRS was unhelpful — even abusive — to taxpayers.

“There were a lot of problems at the IRS,” Everson said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. “And we’ve gotten much better. But now I feel the enforcement side needs to be augmented [because] more people are inclined to believe they can cheat.”

He’s doing so at a time when criminal enforcement of federal tax law by the IRS has hit an all-time low, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which collects and analyzes IRS data. According to the agency’s data, the rate of many actions intended to catch illegal behavior, such as audits and prosecutions, has fallen throughout the 1990s.

Accounting industry observers say audit and enforcement actions have fallen to such a low rate that cheating is rampant.

“There are a tremendous number of people out there who aren’t even filing returns,” said Gail Anger, a Salt Lake City certified public accountant who worked at the IRS for 26 years, mainly as an agent handling audit and collect appeals.

Anger said the accounting community hopes over the next four years Everson will make some meaningful changes within the IRS.

Everson, who before joining the IRS was deputy director for management for the federal Office of Management and Budget, said he intends to pursue those responsible for the greatest amount of cheating.

In other words, average low- to middle-income taxpayers who honestly try to figure out their taxes each year should not worry about taking legitimate deductions.

“We’re targeting specific areas in which there have been abuses,” Everson said.

Those areas include higher-income taxpayers, corporations and attorneys, accountants and others involved in advising and assisting businesses and individuals with their taxes.

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