Thursday, September 21, 2023

IRS launches safety review after Republican criticism, right-wing threats



The Internal Revenue Service will launch a full security review of its facilities nationwide, Commissioner Charles Rettig announced Tuesday, as congressional Republicans and far-right extremists are lashing out at the agency and the new funding it is slated to receive in a massive spending law.

“We see what’s out there in terms of social media. Our workforce is concerned about their safety,” Rettig told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday. “The comments being made are extremely disrespectful to the agency, to the employees and to the country.”

In a letter to employees sent Wednesday, he wrote that the agency would conduct risk assessments for each of the IRS’s 600 facilities, and evaluate whether to increase security patrols along building exteriors, boost designations for restricted areas, examine security around entrances and assess exterior lighting. It will be the agency’s first such review since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, which killed 168 people.

“For me this is personal,” Rettig wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Post. “I’ll continue to make every effort to dispel any lingering misperceptions about our work. And I will continue to advocate for your safety in every venue where I have an audience. You go above and beyond every single day, and I am honored to work with each of you.”

The IRS is set to receive $80 billion in fresh funding over 10 years as part of President Biden’s landmark Inflation Reduction Act. The money is designed to help the agency increase scrutiny of tax cheats and increase enforcement on high-income earners and major corporations, including a large hiring push to help the IRS make up for more than a decade of underfunding.

But Republicans have seized on the funding for the tax collector to attack the law, which also includes investments to address the climate crisis and lower health-care costs. GOP members of Congress have falsely claimed that many of the agency’s 87,000 new hires will be armed and that the new enforcement steps will be aimed at low- and middle-income taxpayers and small businesses.

Many Republicans have drawn baseless comparisons between the IRS’s new enforcement funding and the FBI’s search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They have 80,000 employees. You know what the IRS also has? 4,600 guns. 5 million rounds of ammunition. Why? Democrats want to double its already massive size,” House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) said on the House floor this month, days after the FBI search.

“With this new power, the IRS will snoop around in your bank account, your Venmo, your small business. Then the government will shake you down for every last cent,” he added. “In light of [the FBI’s search of Trump’s residence], let me ask: Do you really trust this administration’s IRS to be fair, to not abuse their power?”

“Think about it: If the left will weaponize the FBI to raid President Trump’s personal residence, they will surely weaponize the IRS’s new 87,000 agents, many of whom will be trained in the use of deadly force, to go after any American citizen,” Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) said this month on the House floor.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wrote an open letter last week to job seekers discouraging them from applying to work at IRS. His letter draws on a job posting for an IRS criminal investigator — a position that requires serving search warrants and making arrests — to suggest that all of the IRS’s new hires will “need to be ready to audit and investigate your fellow hardworking Americans, your neighbors and friends, you need to be ready and, to use the IRS’s words, willing, to kill them.”

In fact, of the IRS’s more than 78,000 employees, fewer than 3,000 work in criminal investigations and carry firearms.

Employees told The Post that the right-wing rhetoric has raised fears that workers could be targeted at their workplaces or in public if they’re identified as IRS employees.

David Carrone, president of the Louisiana-Arkansas National Treasury Employees Union chapter, has tried to allay colleague’s concerns in recent days and persuade them not to leave the agency.

“This terrifies me. This is the reason that I don’t tell people that I work for the IRS,” one employee wrote to him in an email this week, which Carrone read to The Post.

Lorie McCann, president of the Chicago-area chapter, has reminded union members not to wear their work ID badges outside the office so as not to attract undue attention. Some colleagues who work in private buildings leased by the IRS have asked about security enhancements at their workplace. Others who work in federal buildings have told her they worry that their facility could be targeted by domestic terrorists, she said.

“The fact that employees are afraid — I’m afraid — that’s sad,” said McCann, who has worked at the agency for 31 years.

NTEU President Tony Reardon wrote to Rettig on Saturday asking the commissioner to initiate a security review.

“Employees are really concerned that all of this negative rhetoric and this climate that has developed as a result of it may lead to actual threats to employees,” Reardon told The Post.

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