Fact-Checking the Misleading Claim About 87,000 Tax Agents at the IRS
It is always risky to believe things you read in a newspaper or on the Internet. However, the article about 87,000 tax agents at the IRS, which ran in yesterday’s Daily News, left me with a number of questions about information I was shown that I wasn’t aware of. I started with the question of whether the article was true. I found no direct source for the claim that 87,000 tax agents were working for the IRS—as far as I am aware, it was never a claim by a reporter or a number in the article.
I also don’t think the number was reported by the IRS, as it is likely to be an estimate. Indeed, the article describes the number as a “estimate,” so it is probably an estimate of the number of tax agents. Then, the article describes tax returns filed with the IRS as comprising “four times a year,” but the “Times” noted that “according to the IRS, it does not keep such statistics” and that “there is no way to measure the number of tax returns that are filed on an annual basis.” I think we can be pretty confident as to whether the number is an estimate, and to be able to fairly assess its accuracy, we need to look a bit closer at the sources of the article as well as the figures they used.
I’m glad that the article was published, but it is not an accurate way to describe the operation of the Internal Revenue Service. It can be deceiving, and it is also misleading. The fact is that the IRS does not have 87,000 tax agents. The agency doesn’t keep statistics of its tax agent workforce: it is an agency that reports to Congress. Indeed, as I noted in my article on tax preparation fees, “in May 2006 we learned that the IRS had only 2,350 tax agents nationwide.” As far as I know, there is no way to track the number of