The U.S. tax code is fast approaching 75,000 pages, and it is growing every year in complexity and bulk. Yet, as the tax code has become more byzantine, the budget for enforcing it has been shrinking.
In the name of saving money, Congress has cut funding for the agency whose job is to collect revenue and fill government coffers.
The numbers tell the story. In current dollars, the IRS enforcement budget declined from $5.9 billion in 2010 to $5 billion in 2013, including the effects of the government fiscal sequestration. That’s a 15 percent cut in inflation-adjusted spending.
Without adjusting for inflation, the numbers are these: The enforcement budget dropped from $5.5 billion in 2010 to $5 billion last year while the overall IRS budget declined from $12.15 billion to $11.2 billion.
The budget cuts have meant less staffing, with reductions in the ranks of auditors, collections officers and criminal investigators. Last year alone, staff positions in enforcement dropped 6.4 percent, to the lowest total in a decade: 19,531. With declines like that, it should be no surprise that the number of audits has dropped, and revenue resulting from audits plummeted $7 billion (roughly 40 percent) in the three years through 2013.
The IRS isn’t popular among taxpayers, of course, and members of Congress know that. But even if cutting funds for the IRS brings in votes, it’s not likely to reduce the budget deficit.