Privatizing the IRS

When there is an income tax the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.

Plato, The Republic

Again we are reminded. There is nothing government does that the private sector can’t do better. What “Plastics” was to Dustin Hoffman’s “Graduate”, “privatization” is to George W. Bush. At first it was just social security and it would be hard to find a financial firm that is not eagerly awaiting its privatization and the billions of dollars that will soon flow into the stock market-their journey interrupted only ever so briefly by the pockets of the financial firms through which they must flow-firms that have generously contributed to the election of George W. Bush. The commissions will flow as soon as the program is implemented and unlike the poor, whose treasure will be given them in heaven, the financial institutions and employees will receive their treasure as soon as the legislation is passed.

Now, thanks to H.R. 2896 known as The American Jobs Creation Act, another part of the highly touted and much loved (by George W. Bush) private sector will be rewarded with earnings beyond its fondest dreams thanks to a bill dealing with problems that the IRS is having with collecting taxes.

The IRS’ greatest area of expertise, as all taxpayers know, lies in printing long complicated forms that taxpayers have to complete. Two of the things with which the Internal Revenue Service has always had difficulty is applying the forms to real life situations and when the forms are filed, collecting the money supposed to be generated by the completed forms. Its difficulty with interpreting the forms explains why every year at tax time a creative taxpayer will invent a question to ask the Internal Revenue Service and will call the IRS 20 or 30 times and repeat the question to each IRS agent who answers the phone. The enterprising taxpayer will then let it be known that he or she got as many answers as he or she made calls. Invariably (and undoubtedly in an attempt to embarrass the IRS) the question is always framed so that depending on the answer, the taxpayer is entitled to a humongous refund or owes a humongous amount of money. Either way, the IRS is held up to public ridicule which is just about the last thing it needs during tax season.

Whereas the neither Jobs Creation Act nor anything else Congress could conjure up would help the IRS answer questions correctly or consistently when asked about filling out the forms it has invented, Congress has decided it can do something about the fact that the IRS is unable to collect the taxes the taxpayers owe. And the solution is every bit as creative as the social security reform to which we all look forward. It is privatization. And eagerness to privatize and collect lots of money explains the surprise provisions in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2003.

Although most of my readers think of that act as an international tax reform bill that eliminates the extraterritorial income exclusion that has been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization, about which I will say nothing since my readers are almost certainly more informed about it than I, there is a little noticed even more interesting provision found in its interstices that my erudite readers probably overlooked in their zeal to understand the tax implications of the act. The overlooked section says the IRS may outsource debt collection to private debt collectors.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, outsourcing IRS collection procedures will generate about $1.4 billion between 2006-2014, money that, apparently, would not otherwise have been collected by the IRS. Everyone knows that the IRS does not normally get to keep what it collects. Were it otherwise the IRS would be the biggest agency in the federal government and there would be no others. This bill turns that idea on its head. The IRS will be permitted to keep and spend 25% of what the private collection agencies (PCA) collect. Although not clear from what I’ve read, presumably the 25% it gets to spend it would give to the PCAs who collected the money. Thus, if the PCAs collect $1.4 billion, they will get to keep $3.5 million for their efforts.

The PCAs will be very excited about the prospect of this new program. It’s not as exciting as being a stock broker and investing people’s retirement monies but, on the other hand, debt collectors are not in the same silk stocking league as stock brokers and should be grateful for whatever crumbs the Bush administration sends their way. It’s a lot better than the kick in the pants the IRS debtors will certainly receive from the PCAs.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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