Internal Revenue Service:

Enhanced Efforts to Combat Abusive Tax Schemes--Challenges Remain

GAO-02-618T: Published: Apr 11, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 11, 2002.

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Michael Brostek
(202) 512-9039


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Estimating the extent of abusive tax schemes used by individual taxpayers is difficult because they are often hidden. Nevertheless, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) believes that the number and dollar consequences of these schemes has grown recently. IRS estimates that 740,000 taxpayers used abusive schemes in tax year 2000. IRS caught $5 billion in improper tax avoidance or tax credit and refund claims, but estimates that another $20 to $40 billion went undetected. Recent developments suggest that the number of individuals using an abusive tax scheme involving offshore accounts may be greater than estimated and potential lost revenues may be higher than estimated. Because no one individual or office could provide an agencywide perspective on IRS's strategy, goals, objectives, performance measures, or program results, it is difficult to provide a clear picture of IRS's efforts to address abusive tax schemes. IRS has created new offices, reemphasized and reorganized earlier efforts, and plans to assign at least 200 additional staff to its efforts. Limited data suggest that IRS's enhanced efforts have helped to successfully convict those promoting and taking advantage of abusive schemes, publicize these results, and uncover previously hidden major offshore compliance problems. The number of possible abusive tax schemes, however, could outstrip IRS's audit resources. Furthermore, identifying and handling these cases will require better coordination on IRS's part. IRS has not yet developed a way to track the resources used to combat abusive schemes, nor has it developed goals and measures to assess its progress.

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