The Internal Revenue Service is apparently having a hard time with crafting procedures that would ensure fairness with respect to audits. The Washington Times reports:
The IRS leaves it up to individual employees to decide what’s “fair” in audits, meaning the tax agency sometimes uses arbitrary criteria in deciding whom to review, the government’s chief watchdog said Wednesday in a report Republicans seized on as proof that unfair targeting could still be going on.
The Government Accountability Office did not find evidence of political targeting in two new reports on small business and individual audits, but said without defining what it means to be fair, the IRS could end up unknowingly playing favorites between different groups of taxpayers.Piggybacking on the IRS‘ targeting of tea party groups from 2010 through 2013, the new reports left Republicans on Capitol Hill miffed that the tax agency still hasn’t taken steps to make sure all taxpayers are treated the same.
“The American people deserve better. We must do more to ensure the IRS treats all Americans fairly, holds employees responsible for these abuses accountable and implements procedures to prevent this abuse from ever happening again,” said Rep. Peter J. Roskam, an Illinois Republican who helped lead one of the investigations into the IRS targeting.
GAO investigators said the IRS division that audits individuals’ returns gauges its performance by looking at whether it forces better compliance on taxpayers, but doesn’t measure itself on fairness or integrity.
“These audit goals do not refer to fairness and integrity because these terms have not been defined by IRS,” the investigators said.
The article continues:
The same held true for the IRS‘ division that audits small businesses and the self-employed, where investigators said they held eight focus groups and employees weren’t able to settle on a single definition of what “fairness” meant when they were handling audits.
Some agency employees said it meant ignoring a taxpayer’s name or location; others said fairness included accounting for the different costs of living depending on where taxpayers lived. The investigators said those definitions could be mutually exclusive — creating even more confusion in what it meant to be fair to taxpayers, and leaving some treated differently than others.
“Without a clear definition of fairness that has been communicated to staff, [the division] has less assurance that its staff consistently treat all taxpayers fairly,” the investigators said.
In other words, business as usual.