IRS launches security audit after employee threats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to a growing number of threats stemming from conspiracy theories that agents were going to aggressively target middle-income taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday that it is conducting a comprehensive review of security at its facilities.

The climate, health care and tax legislation signed by President Joe Biden last week included $80 billion in funding for tax collection efforts. Although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen specifically asked the agency not to focus its attention on middle-class income taxpayers, misinformation quickly spread online that agents were going to crack down on taxpayers of all income levels.

The unsubstantiated allegations also stated that the IRS would distribute firearms to employees authorized to use deadly force, making threats against IRS employees.

Now agency leadership has launched a review of agency security.

“We are conducting a comprehensive review of existing safety and security measures,” said Chuck Rettig, IRS commissioner of the agency’s 600 office locations across the country. “That includes conducting risk assessments,” he said, monitoring perimeter security, identifying restricted areas, exterior lighting, security around facility entrances and other measures.

“For me this is personal. I will continue to make every effort to dispel any lingering misconceptions about our work,” Rettig said in a Tuesday letter to employees. “And I will continue to advocate for your safety in every space where I have an audience.”

Rettig, whose term at the IRS ends in November, has been tasked with developing a plan for how to spend the new infusion of funds included in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Along with anonymous online forums, high-ranking Republican politicians have spread lies about the IRS workforce and how the newly allocated funds will be spent.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., sent an open letter Aug. 16 to Americans urging them not to take new IRS positions, promoting false information about open roles in the agency and their access to firearms.

“The IRS makes it very clear that not only must you be prepared to audit and investigate your fellow hard-working Americans, your neighbors and friends, you must be prepared and, to use the words of the IRS, willing to kill them” . he said in the letter.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said members were vocal about their fears and concerns about their safety.

“IRS employees are certainly very hard working and honest, doing the job of funding the government. They say they don’t deserve to be treated as enemies of the government,” he said.

He added that members who are of retirement age have expressed a greater desire to retire because of the increased focus on their jobs. More than half of the IRS enforcement workforce of 80,000 is eligible for retirement.

Reardon said several workers have spoken out that it reminded them of the 2010 suicide bombing in Austin, Texas, where Andrew Joseph Stack III intentionally crashed his single-engine plane into the Echelon office building, killing himself and the director of the Internal Revenue Service, a plane Vernon Hunter.

“The rhetoric we’re hearing now is dangerous,” Reardon said. “It puts these patriotic Americans at risk.”

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