Department of Worst Nightmares

Last week, I wrote about a recent report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ("TIGTA") -- an independent board that works to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse within the IRS and related entities. I was amused to learn that 70 federal agencies owed $14 million in unpaid employment taxes on their employees' wages -- and 18 more agencies hadn't even filed their employment tax returns. But I was more surprised to learn that the IRS can't take any effective action to collect those outstanding balances.

While I was busy bringing you the news about Uncle Sam's "Get Out of Jail Free" card, the TIGTA was busy issuing another report that I knew you'd want to hear about. And this one may be worth paying attention to. Would you believe that TIGTA thinks "Firearms Training for IRS Criminal Investigation Division Needs Improvement"?

When we think of IRS "agents," we typically think of deskbound bureaucrats who spend their days shuffling papers that would put the rest of us to sleep. And for the most part, that's true. "Revenue Agents" are the IRS's invaluable front line; auditing and examining financial records to make sure that taxes get paid.

But it's easy to forget that the IRS has a long history of law-enforcement success (remember who finally put Al Capone in jail?) Today's Criminal Investigation ("CI") Division employs 2,700 "Special Agents" -- an elite force who investigate tax evasion, money laundering, narcotics-related financial crimes, and counterterrorism financing. Their duties include executing search warrants and arresting fugitives. They're even authorized to use deadly force to protect themselves and the public. So, naturally, Special Agents must meet firearms training and qualifications standards every year, including "firing a handgun, entering a building with a firearm, and firing a weapon while wearing a bulletproof vest."

TIGTA looked at 597 Special Agents working out of the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C. field offices. They found that CI's firearms training and qualification requirements "generally met or exceeded those of other federal law enforcement agencies." That's certainly reassuring for those of us who think the only thing more terrifying than an IRS agent packing heat is an IRS agent with a gun he doesn't know how to use.

However, TIGTA found, some special agents don't actually meet those training and qualification requirements. Field office managers didn't always take consistent actions when special agents failed to meet the requirements. And there's no national-level review of firearms training to make sure all special agents meet their requirements. TIGTA recommended that CI either enforce the requirement that special agents who don't meet training requirements surrender their firearms, or modify the literal rules to reflect what actually happens in the field when an agent misses training requirements. TIGTA also recommended that CI establish a process to monitor and periodically review special agent firearms training and qualification records.

IRS Special Agents do some of the Service's most valuable work. Their efforts help keep everyone's taxes down, and keep us safe in other ways as well. We're confident none of you reading this will ever wind up on the wrong side of an IRS agent's gun. But if it ever did happen, wouldn't you want that agent to have a little experience with that weapon?

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