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Pandemic Drove More Efficient IRS Criminal Probes, Official Says

By Joshua Rosenberg · June 4, 2021, 7:41 PM EDT

The Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation division has become more efficient thanks to operational changes the agency has enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, an agency official said Friday.

IRS agents are consistently employing time-saving techniques adopted because of the pandemic, leading to more streamlined casework, Gary L. Alford, supervisory special agent at the agency's CI division, said during a criminal tax conference hosted by the Green & Sklarz Foundation Trust.

"In some ways," Alford said, the pandemic "made us more efficient."

''In the past, we had an old-school mindset that everything had to be done in person," Alford said.

Agents have been able to expedite their casework timelines by scheduling remote meetings and phone calls with taxpayers and their representatives, Alford said. 

Field agents contended with more pronounced logistical challenges when relying on in-person meetings, Alford said. 

Now "you could potentially schedule those interviews within a day or two, virtually, if you had to," he said. "There's nothing stopping you."

The IRS announced in March 2020 that in light of the pandemic, it would carry out a People First Initiative, which temporarily relaxed certain payment guidelines and compliance activities. 

As part of that initiative, which lasted from April 1 through July 15, IRS field officers generally did not initiate seizures of property, liens or levies, but were instructed to continue pursuing high-income individuals who had not filed. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig later said the agency would gradually ramp up its enforcement activities once that initiative ended. 

Agents' operations include executing search warrants and making arrests. James Lee, chief of criminal investigation, said earlier this year that while criminal field agents made some modifications in light of the pandemic, they still have been able to execute their responsibilities. Lee took the reins of the division when his predecessor, Don Fort, retired in September.  

In addition, given the agency's resource-strained status, the CI division increasingly is relying on data analytics to identify and pursue "big cases" that are most likely to encourage taxpayer compliance, Alford said. 

"Sometimes we're using data analytics to just make sure we can have the biggest and most impactful cases, because it's all about ... the mission of voluntary compliance and getting people to voluntarily comply with the law," he said. 

President Joe Biden has proposed implementing enacting a 10.4% increase in discretionary funding for the IRS to $13.2 billion in fiscal 2022. His budget plan would also provide $72.5 billion in mandatory funding over 10 years — an average of $7.25 billion a year, or 61% of the agency's current budget — for compliance, enforcement and technology.

--Additional reporting by Alan K. Ota. Editing by Roy LeBlanc.

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