|This op-ed co-authored by Representatives Jason Smith, Rick Allen, Kristi Noem, David Rouzer, and Glenn Grothman appeared in Townhall on April 15, 2016:
Give it a try. Think of anybody you know or have ever heard of who has had a good experience with the IRS.
I’m stumped too. After all, there’s a reason why when people hear the letters “IRS” they get angry, frustrated, scared, or a combination of all three.Our tax code is a modern-day embodiment of Dante’s circles of hell. The federal tax code and accompanying regulations span over 70,000 pages long. The instructions for completing the 1040 form alone run at 105 pages. Individuals and businesses spend more than 6 billion hours per year to do their taxes at a cost of more than $31 billion in tax preparation services.
And on top of all that, IRS employees seem to play by different rules than the rest of us, leading to scandals that only exacerbate the people’s distrust of their government.
So on this Tax Day, Congress is zeroing in on the IRS. Fairness is our guide and accountability is the goal as we try to make the IRS beholden to the American people, saving everyone time and money in the process.
So how do we plan to make the IRS more accountable? We have six bills we plan to pass next week.
The first will require the IRS to crack down on their employees who are delinquent on their own taxes. Nobody—from the IRS commissioner to an entry-level IRS employee—is above the law. When people are hired for positions of public trust, they should follow the rules even more scrupulously than others so as to better uphold the fundamental American principle that law is applied equally to all. Yet, according to the agency’s own Inspector General, nearly 1,600 IRS employees have failed to pay their own taxes in the last decade.
So this bill would require the Treasury Secretary to certify that every IRS employee is paying the same taxes they are charged with collecting from everyone else. That way, IRS employees know the frustration and difficulties their agency causes every American.
Next, we will consider legislation that creates something that should already exist—a statutory rule blocking the IRS from rehiring employees who were already fired from the IRS for misconduct. Incredibly, the agency’s Inspector General found that the IRS has rehired hundreds of employees it previously fired for poor performance or unauthorized snooping on private taxpayer information. Accountability starts with good personnel, and when it comes to handling people’s sensitive personal information or fairly applying the tax code, we can’t afford to trust people who have shown themselves to be untrustworthy.
Following that, the House plans to pass a proposal that addresses the IRS’s shoddy customer service record in responding to requests for help in preparing tax forms. During some tax-filing seasons, the IRS only answers one in ten calls from taxpayers. This bill will ban IRS employees from getting bonus payments until the agency implements a plan to bring customer service performance levels up to what we expect of customer service in the private sector.
We also have a bill to prevent the IRS from keeping user fees they charge in a slush fund that is neither transparent nor accountable. The IRS—like most federal agencies—should depend on annual appropriations from the people’s elected representatives for its funding. This is not only fundamental to exercising Congress’s Article I power of the purse, but it would also prevent the types of abuses we’ve seen from the IRS of political targeting, selective enforcement, and choosing to spend on frivolities rather than improving customer service.
Lastly, we will be passing two bills that we expect to have wide bipartisan support: the first to stop any IRS funding from being used to target citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights, and the next to provide printed copies whenever requested of the official IRS instructions book on how to file taxes, ensuring those with limited or no Internet access still have everything they need to deal with April 15th.
In the week following Tax Day, House Republicans will send a clear message to the IRS: clean up your act, because this is only the beginning. Accountability isn’t an option in government; it’s a necessity. Only with a thoroughly reformed IRS and eventually a simplified and fair tax code can taxpayers again trust that the government is not only working efficiently, but is working for them.
Then, while we can’t promise that paying taxes will be a good experience, at the very least it won’t feel like being stuck in hell.