IRS won’t hire armed auditors, will add criminal investigators, new chief says

Apr 27, 2023
FILE PHOTO: The Internal Revenue Service building is seen in Washington

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Danny Werfel on Thursday said the agency will not hire any armed auditors with $80 billion in new funding, an attempt to dispel Republican assertions the IRS plans to build an “army” of 87,000 armed agents.

Werfel, sworn in as the tax agency’s chief on April 4, acknowledged to a House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee hearing that the IRS Criminal Investigations division would hire additional staff authorized to carry firearms, but said this division does not conduct audits.

Werfel, asked how many armed revenue agents would be hired to increase the number of audits on wealthy Americans and large businesses, said, “None, sir.”

But later, he said statistics cited by Republican Representative Adrian Smith sounded “about right” that the IRS would hire some 360 Criminal Investigation special agents over the next five years, for a net gain of 1,200 after retirements.

“Our CI division or Criminal Investigation Division, they do not conduct audits,” Werfel said. “What they do is, they are investigating acute issues of fraud and tax evasion. And typically, they’re armed when they’re putting themselves in danger.”

The Republican number of 87,000, perpetuated on social media, was based on a Treasury Department estimate buried in a May 2021 report that new funding could lead to 86,852 new hires over a decade. The Treasury has said the new hires will largely replace retiring employees over the next decade and a Reuters Fact Check showed that the Criminal Investigation division has 2,100 special agents, only about 3% of the agency’s total staff.

Werfel declined to answer Republicans’ questions about a House Oversight Committee investigation into the business dealings of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, or allegations that IRS personnel left a note at reporter Matt Taibbi’s home on the day he testified before a congressional subcommittee in March on the “weaponization” of government.

Werfel cited laws prohibiting him from discussing individual taxpayer cases.

He said that the IRS just completed a “strong” tax season, with improved service and drastically reduced times answering taxpayer phone calls, but did not provide details on revenues collected.

(Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Grant McCool)