The Internal Revenue Service currently suffers from both the animosity many citizens bear toward the government’s collection agency and a series of political, legal, constitutional, and public relations gaffes that will be difficult to correct in the short term. These perception and legal issues could cause serious problems for professional tax return preparers.
A national telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters earlier this year found that half of those polled to not trust the IRS to enforce the tax laws fairly. Only 31 percent indicated that they trust the agency. The survey, conducted for Rasmussen by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC, was conducted on March 22–23, 2015, and has a margin of error +/- 3 percentage points and a 95 percent level of confidence.
This year’s report by Rasmussen shows a small decline in public faith since last year, when a similar survey found that 34 percent of likely voters viewed the IRS favorably and 58 percent did not. Nor is this study the only one to be critical of the agency. A Rasmussen survey from last year found that 65 percent of voters continue to think the Internal Revenue Service is not aggressive enough in going after tax cheats, and believe strongly than the agency should focus on tax collection rather than taking on its new task of enforcing Obamacare. Another survey from last year shows that 71 percent of likely voters believe the IRS destroyed evidence to hide its role in targeting conservative non-profit groups.
A January, 2015 survey of 1,504 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center found that, of thirteen agencies, only the IRS failed to receive positive reviews from the majority of respondents. Reflecting numbers that have essentially remained fixed since late 2013, Pew reported that 48% are critical of the IRS, whereas only 45% were said to – on the whole – approve of the IRS.
Yet, the problems besetting the IRS go beyond its image:
- The agency remains embroiled in a legal and political fight over allegations that it systematically targeted conservative groups and individuals.
- The Office of the Inspector General is caught up in its own battle for refusal to provide documents subpoenaed by Congress.
- A March, 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office finds that the IRS computer hardware and software systems are outdated and non-secure, putting the financial data of millions of Americans at risk.
- The IRS workforce is aging. More than half of IRS employees are over the age of 50. Four years from now, about 40 percent of its workforce will be eligible to retire. The share of employees under 30 has fallen to less than 3 percent, and half of those under-30s work only part-time.
- The agency budget has been cut, and there are increasing calls by political candidates to abolish the IRS entirely.
Despite receiving mostly negative marks from a number of public opinion surveys, facing litigious challenges for alleged misconduct, and enduring a scathing review of its aging infrastructure, the IRS can boast that the majority of Americans don’t support abolishing the tax collection agency. Those surveyed indicate that they just want the IRS to administer tax laws fairly, and these recent challenges may shape that ongoing dialogue.