By Tom Ozimek
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced a major yet “common-sense” policy change that will put an end to most unannounced agent visits to taxpayers’ homes, mostly due to security concerns.
The move, effective immediately, reverses decades of policy that saw IRS revenue officers knock on the doors of taxpayers’ homes without forewarning in attempts to resolve delinquent tax matters.
The reason for the change, according to a statement by the IRS, is to lower the risk that anxiety-provoking surprise home visits by tax enforcement agents could spiral out of control, posing a hazard to both taxpayers and agency field officers.
Experience shows that unannounced door knocks at homes and businesses were high-risk encounters, with agents routinely facing “hazards and uncertainty” when making surprise visits, the IRS said.
Unannounced visits also created what the IRS called “public confusion” and posed risks to taxpayer safety.
“These visits created extra anxiety for taxpayers already wary of potential scam artists,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. “At the same time, the uncertainty around what IRS employees faced when visiting these homes created stress for them as well. This is the right thing to do and the right time to end it.”
Part of the problem, the IRS said, is that there’s been a rise in recent years of scam artists posing as IRS agents, creating confusion for both taxpayers and local law enforcement.
The change comes amid the IRS’s recent rollout of a new Strategic Operating Plan, which seeks, in part, to put a kinder face on the tax enforcement agency.
“We are taking a fresh look at how the IRS operates to better serve taxpayers and the nation, and making this change is a common-sense step,” Werfel said. “Changing this long-standing procedure will increase confidence in our tax administration work and improve overall safety for taxpayers and IRS employees.”
The union for tax agents, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), praised the decision to shift policy around unannounced door knocks.
“We applaud Commissioner Werfel’s quick action after hearing the safety concerns raised by NTEU leaders and IRS Field Collection employees who faced dangerous situations that put their safety at risk,” Tony Reardon, president of the NTEU, said in a statement.
Reardon blamed “false, inflammatory rhetoric about the agency and its workforce” for adding to the danger facing field agents.
While Reardon did not elaborate, his remarks suggest a reference to Republican allegations that part of the recent $80 billion or so funding boost would be used to hire an “army” of newly hired IRS agents would target lower-earning Americans with audits.
“Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will be coming for you—with 710,000 new audits for Americans who earn less than $75k,” then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a tweet in August 2022, when the IRS funding boost dominated headlines.
The IRS and the Treasury Department have both repeatedly denied that audit rates would rise above historical levels for people earning less than $400,000, while saying that new hires would focus on improved taxpayer services and experienced auditors who would take on corporate and high-end tax evaders.
Werfel reiterated this point on Monday, saying that the agency is adding more staff and resources for compliance work that focuses on key areas like high-income taxpayers with tax issues.
“We have the tools we need to successfully collect revenue without adding stress with unannounced visits,” he said.
“The only losers with this change in policy are scammers posing as the IRS.”
The change affects the unarmed division of the IRS, not its criminal investigations unit, which takes on serious tax crimes and whose officers are authorized to carry guns and make raids.
‘Limited Situations’ Where Door Knocks Will Take Place
Instead of unannounced door knocks, IRS agents will send letters to taxpayers to schedule meetings.
However, the agency said that there will be “extremely limited” situations in which unannounced visits will occur.
“These rare instances include service of summonses and subpoenas; and also sensitive enforcement activities involving seizure of assets, especially those at risk of being placed beyond the reach of the government,” the IRS said in a statement.
These types of situations represent a small fraction—fewer than several hundred each year—of surprise door knocks on taxpayers’ doors, the agency said.
By contrast, under the previous policy, there were tens of thousands of unannounced IRS agent visits to taxpayers’ homes each year.
The policy change does not impact the work of the IRS Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) unit, a division whose agents investigate crimes like fraud and tax evasion.
Armed IRS-CI agents made headlines recently while executing a high-profile raid on a Florida business.
At least 25 to 30 IRS-CI agents in tactical gear executed a search warrant at a business in Stuart, Florida, last week, according to Fox 29.
“It was like a scene from a movie,” an unnamed witness told the outlet. “They had the big gear, tactical gear because they probably didn’t know what they were walking into.”
An IRS-CI spokesperson confirmed to The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that the agents who raided the Florida business were from the criminal investigations unit and were there on “official business.”
There are now around 2,100 agents in the criminal investigations division, Carissa Cutrell, a public affairs officer at IRS-CI, told The Epoch Times in a recent emailed statement.
“IRS-CI’s mission includes not only investigating criminals for crimes they’ve committed but also deterring potential criminals from committing future crimes,” Cutrell added.
In the mid-1990s, the unit had around 3,500 special agents, and Cutrell said they lose between 150 and 175 agents each year due to retirement and attrition.
She said the unit plans to hire around 350 agents this fiscal year for a net gain of between 150 and 175.