Washington — In response to a growing number of threats from conspiracy theories that agents would aggressively target middle-income taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced Tuesday that it was conducting a comprehensive review of security at its facilities.
The climate, health and tax legislation was signed by President Biden last weekin funds for tax collection. Although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen specifically instructed 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 baseless allegations also said the IRS would distribute firearms to employees authorized to use deadly force, leading to threats against IRS employees.
The agency management has now launched an investigation into agency security.
“We are conducting a comprehensive review of existing safety and security measures,” Chuck Rettig, the IRS commissioner, said of the agency’s 600 office locations across the country. “This includes conducting risk assessments,” he said, by monitoring perimeter security, restricted area designations, exterior lighting, security around facility entrances and other measures.
“For me, this is personal. I will continue to do everything I can to dispel any misconceptions about our work,” Rettig said in a Tuesday letter to employees. “And I will continue to advocate for your safety in every place where I have an audience.”
Rettig, whose term on the IRS ends in November, is tasked with developing a plan for how to use the new infusion of funds included in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Along with anonymous online forums, high-ranking Republican politicians have been spreading falsehoods about the IRS workforce and how the newly allocated funds will be spent.
Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida sent an open letter Aug. 16 to Americans asking them not to take any new IRS positions, reinforcing false information about open roles at the agency and their access to firearms.
“The IRS makes it very clear that not only do you have to be ready to audit and investigate your fellow hard-working Americans, your neighbors and friends, you have to be ready 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 have been vocal about their fears and concerns for their safety.
“IRS employees are certainly very hard working and honest, they are in the business of funding the government. They say they don’t deserve to be treated as the enemy 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 attention to their jobs. More than half of the IRS’s enforcement workforce of 80,000 is eligible for retirement.
Reardon said several workers have spoken about being reminded of the 2010 suicide bombing in Austin, Texas, in which Andrew Joseph Stack III deliberately crashed his single-engine plane into the Echelon office building, killing himself and IRS chief Vernon Hunter.
“The rhetoric we’re hearing now is dangerous,” Reardon said. “It puts these patriotic Americans at risk.”