The Internal Revenue Service announced plans on Tuesday to launch a review of security at its facilities across the country following threats from Republicans and other right-wing actors.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig toldThe Washington Post that the agency will in the coming weeks and months prepare risk assessments for all of its 600 facilities and consider new security measures designed to keep workers safe. It will be the first such assessments since the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
The assessments, Mr Rettig said, are a result of threats the agency has faced since Republicans made an issue of its inclusion in the Democrats’ new spending bill that President Joe Biden signed earlier this month. Under the terms of the bill, the IRS will recieve $80 bn in new funding over ten years to help the agency pursue tax avoidance by high-income earners and major corporations.
The money is also meant to help the IRS hire a slate of new agents. The agency has been understaffed for the better part of the decade, curbing its ability to enforce the law.
A number Republicans, however, have siezed on the funding to suggest that Mr Biden and his party are interested in using the IRS to pursue working and middle class Americans — drawing explicit paralells betewen the expansion of the agency’s size and power and the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
Republican officials as prominent as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California have noted that the IRS has guns and ammunition, implying that armed agents could execute tax enforcement on Americans under the terms of Mr Biden’s spending law.
“They have 80,000 employees. You know what the IRS also has? 4,600 guns. 5 million rounds of ammunition. Why?” Mr McCarthy said on the House floor. He later warned that IRS agents “will snoop around in… your Venmo.”
Sen Ted Cruz of Texas was even less subtle, tweeting, “Democrats are making the IRS bigger than the Pentagon, the Department of State, the FBI, and the Border Patrol COMBINED! Those IRS agents will come after you, not billionaires and big corporations!”
Republicans’ attacks on the IRS progressed to such a point last week that Sen Rick Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), wrote an open letter last week to people considering applying for jobs at the agency to warn them that theirs will be a “short-term gig.”
“Republicans will take over the House and Senate in January, and I can promise you that we will immediately do everything in our power to defund this insane and unwarranted expansion of government into the lives of the American people,” Mr Scott, who is under fire for his leadership of the NRSC, wrote.
In reality, a fraction of the IRS’ nearly 80,000 employees are armed and the new funding is designed to help the agency enforce already existing tax laws which would, in turn, significantly boost the federal government’s revenue.
But the venom directed at the agency and its mission from Republicans — many of whom have close ties to the types of major corporations and high-income earners who may face increased scrutiny in the coming years — has left a number of agents concerned about their safety.
“For me this is personal,” Mr Rettig wrote in a letter to IRS employees as reported by the Post. “I’ll continue to make every effort to dispel any lingering misperceptions about our work. And I will continue to advocate for your safety in every venue where I have an audience. You go above and beyond every single day, and I am honored to work with each of you.”