Dumb Budget Cuts: How Slashing Funds For The IRS Winds Up Costing The U.S. Money

When does a cut to the federal budget actually result in an increase in the deficit? When, as the New York Times profiled today, it cuts the Internal Revenue Service, leaving the IRS understaffed and unable to collect all the taxes owed to the federal government:

An expanding workload and cuts in funds have left the Internal Revenue Service unable to adequately perform either of its primary duties — collecting taxes and providing the public with reasonable service, according to a report released Wednesday by the I.R.S.’s internal monitor.

The agency’s staff reductions and backlog have limited its ability to collect the hundreds of billions of dollars a year that the government is owed but not paid, Nina E. Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, said in her annual report to Congress.

In the report, Olson noted that, due to budget cuts, the IRS “is unable to maximize revenue collection, contributing to the federal budget deficit.” “It will never be possible to eliminate the tax gap entirely, of course, but even modest improvements would help to reduce the federal budget deficit. Moreover, even apart from the fiscal implications, the size of the tax gap raises important equity concerns,” the report added.

The latest data shows that there is a $385 billion gap between the taxes owed to the U.S. and those collected, meaning close to 15 percent of federal taxes went unpaid. There would have to be a $3,400 “noncompliance surtax” paid by every tax compliant household, in order “to enable the federal government to raise the same revenue it would have collected if all taxpayers had reported their income and paid their taxes in full.” The IRS, meanwhile, estimates that every dollar spent on enforcement brings in $4-$5 dollars of additional revenue.