Comprehensive Review of Civil Penalties Needed

T-GGD-88-55: Published: Sep 28, 1988. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1988.

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GAO discussed its preliminary review of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) administration of civil penalties for taxpayer noncompliance. GAO found that: (1) over the past 70 years, Congress has enacted nearly 150 penalties; (2) in fiscal year 1987, IRS reportedly assessed almost 27 million penalties totalling over $14 billion; (3) IRS often inconsistently administered penalties due to its decentralized penalty management system and the complexity of the penalty assessment and abatement process; and (4) IRS managers lacked good, readily available information to oversee work and to evaluate performance. GAO also found that IRS often: (1) did not assess penalties when warranted; (2) incorrectly computed penalties; and (3) inconsistently enforced penalties. In addition, GAO found that an ongoing IRS study of civil penalties would be useful in reaching a consensus on the definition and role civil penalties should play, but was not comprehensive enough to identify the extent of problems, or develop specific recommendations to correct them.

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