IRS undertakes security review amid threats to agency and employees
By Deborah B. Solomon
The Internal Revenue Service, which has been under sustained attack by Republican lawmakers and conservative outlets, is undertaking a “comprehensive” review of its security amid threats to the tax agency and its employees.
In a letter sent to staff on Tuesday, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig cited “an abundance of misinformation and false social media postings, some of them with threats directed at the I.R.S. and its employees.”
As a result, the agency is conducting a review of “existing safety and security measures” at its operations nationwide and has “increased engagement” with law enforcement and security agencies.
“We are aware of these concerning messages, and I want to assure you that your safety is and will continue to be my top priority,” Rettig wrote.
The security review and letter to staff were reported earlier by The Washington Post.
Misinformation and conspiracy theories about the agency have proliferated in the wake of a Democrat-backed bill that gives the tax collector an additional $80 billion to help crack down on tax cheats. The legislation, which President Joe Biden signed into law last week, is intended to help the agency hire more than 80,000 employees, upgrade antiquated technology systems and improve its ability to respond to taxpayers.
Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have promised that the additional personnel will not result in increased scrutiny or audits of anyone making less than $400,000 per year.
Yellen, in a memo last week to Rettig, mapped out her top priorities for the agency and reiterated that it must focus on rich tax dodgers and corporate tax evasion.
“These investments will not result in households earning $400,000 per year or less or small businesses seeing an increase in the chances that they are audited relative to historical levels,” Yellen wrote.
But the funding has spawned a host of unfounded conspiracy theories — including from Republican members of Congress — about the threat that mom-and-pop shops and middle-class Americans will now face from an emboldened tax collector. Social media is awash in claims that the new agents will be heavily armed, despite the fact that just 1% of the new employees would be working in jobs that require carrying guns.
That has not stopped elected members of Congress from fanning spurious claims.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is on the Senate Finance Committee, warned Fox News viewers this month that the new IRS agents might be coming with loaded “AK-15s” and “ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa.”
Other Republican lawmakers have cautioned that more IRS agents will result in more audits of small business owners and middle-class Americans, despite the administration’s pledge.
Yellen, writing on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, said the safety of IRS employees is a “top priority.”
As The New York Times reported last week, the scale and speed at which rumors about the agency have spread portend the political and logistical challenges that the Biden administration will confront as it embarks on the biggest overhaul of the IRS since its inception.