March 18, 2021 – At a time when Americans face growing economic inequality and financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is letting billions of dollars in tax revenue slip through its fingers because budget and staffing cuts have left the agency incapable of fairly and effectively auditing the 637,212 millionaires now living in the United States.
Over the past decade, Congress has imposed severe funding and staffing cuts at the Internal Revenue Service, cuts that have seriously undermined the agency’s ability to administer the nation’s tax laws. Some of the largest budget cuts over the last decade have reduced the number of IRS revenue agents. The decline in revenue agents undermines the agency’s work because revenue agents are the only auditors qualified to examine complex tax returns, and complex tax returns are precisely the types of returns filed by high income individuals and large business firms. Fewer revenue agents at the IRS means fewer audits of wealthy tax filers and large businesses.
Audits of Millionaires: Less than 2 out of every 100 taxpayers reporting over a million dollars of income were audited in FY 2020. While the ranks of millionaires have nearly doubled since FY 2012, the number of millionaire returns that were audited has actually fallen 72 percent – down from 40,965 millionaire audits in FY 2012 to just 11,331 in FY 2020.
In FY 2012, audits of millionaires turned up $4.8 billion in unreported taxes. Now with less than a third the number of audits, the government uncovered only $1.2 billion in unreported taxes in FY 2020. With 98 percent of millionaires escaping any scrutiny, fewer audits in all likelihood means many millionaires escape paying billions of dollars owed the U.S. Treasury.
Audits of Corporate Giants: Nearly two out of every three of the 755 largest corporations in the country – those with over $20 billion in assets – were not audited last year. As recently as 2012, nearly all such returns (93%) were being examined by the IRS.
Audits in 2012 of these corporate giants turned up $10.0 billion dollars in unreported taxes. This had dropped by more than half to just $4.1 billion during FY 2020. The dollar significance is even greater if the focus expands to corporations reporting over $250 million in assets. Audits of these large corporations in FY 2012 turned up $24.4 billion in unreported taxes. This fell to just $5.4 billion in FY 2020.
These findings are based on internal agency documents obtained under court order by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
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The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse is a nonpartisan joint research center of the Whitman School of Management (https://whitman.syr.edu) and the Newhouse School of Public Communications (https://newhouse.syr.edu) at Syracuse University.