The Decline of the IRS

The Decline of the IRS

Jonathan Ernst

ProPublica has been documenting what it calls “the descent of the IRS” over the last decade as the agency struggles with budget cuts and hostility from lawmakers. In a report Thursday, the independent news organization says that the latest data from the IRS point to “historic lows for U.S. tax enforcement.”

Reviewing the IRS’s annual release of enforcement statistics, ProPublica highlights some interesting data points:

  • In 2019, the IRS reported “the lowest audit rate in generations.”
  • Revenues from audits fell to $11 billion in 2019 – down 61% from the $28 billion collected in 2010.
  • Expiring debt – payments owed to the IRS but not yet collected – totaled $6.7 billion in 2019, up from $564 million in 2010.
  • Enforcement staff has been cut by 36% since 2010.
  • Audit rates for the wealthy have fallen to 2.4%, down from 12.5% in 2011.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has opposed budget cuts at the IRS, said the data reaffirms the need to beef up the tax agency’s enforcement capabilities. “It’s a national scandal that the wealthy are stealing tens of billions from American taxpayers,” he told ProPublica. “Paying taxes has become increasingly voluntary for those at the top. … The IRS needs to tackle this challenge head on, and one of my top priorities if Democrats take control of the Senate will be to rebuild the IRS.”

For more details, see the ProPublica analysis here.