US

IRS looks to beef up protection after receiving threats over $80bn funding

The US tax department is exploring ways to increase protection of its facilities after staff began receiving threats amid an intense Republican backlash over $80bn in funding for the agency.

Charles Rettig, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, wrote to employees on Tuesday announcing the review and urging them to report any threats or concerns to managers. The IRS will examine perimeter security, entrance security and exterior lighting at its offices, he added.

Rettig’s email came as Republicans have turned on the IRS over additional funding it has been granted as part of the $700bn climate, tax and healthcare bill President Joe Biden signed into law this month. Some have cited conspiracy theories claiming the funds would be used to target low-income citizens and Democrats’ political opponents.

Rettig told staff: “In recent days, there has been an abundance of misinformation and false social media postings, some of them with threats directed at the IRS and its employees. We are aware of these concerning messages, and I want to assure you that your safety is and will continue to be my top priority.”

He added: “We are conducting a comprehensive review of existing safety and security measures. This includes conducting risk assessments based on data-driven decisions given the current environment and monitoring perimeter security, designations of restricted areas, exterior lighting, security around entrances to our facilities and other various protection.”

Democrats wanted the additional funding to help reduce tax evasion and increase the country’s tax income. The money, $45bn of which will be spent on enforcement, will be used to increase staffing and improve the department’s technology.

Janet Yellen, Treasury secretary, has instructed Rettig not to use the additional resources to increase the number of audits for households making less than $400,000 annually.

But this has not stopped a welter of criticism from Republicans, who have accused the Biden administration of seeking to target lower-income households and small businesses.

Some senior Republicans have even speculated the agency could resort to violence. Chuck Grassley, the Republican senator from Iowa, said on Fox News earlier this month: “Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s already loaded ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa?”

Rettig, who was nominated by former president Donald Trump, has played a personal role in advocating for greater funding for the IRS. As members of Congress prepared to vote on the bill, he sent them a letter in which he said the agency “continually struggles to receive sufficient resources to fulfil its important mission”.

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