FactCheck.org Smacks Down The GOP's "16,500 New IRS Agents" Lie

March 31, 2010 11:53 am ET

In the final weeks of the health care debate, Republicans repeated the baseless claim that the Affordable Care Act required "16,500 additional IRS agents." The experts at FactCheck.org examined the claim yesterday and deemed it "wildly inaccurate."

Republican Lawmakers Repeat "16,500 New IRS Agents" Lie

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA):

The Internal Revenue Service has said that in order to review the tax returns of every taxpayer in America to ensure that they have complied with the law and bought insurance or had insurance taken out through their employer, they are going to have to have an additional 16,500 Internal Revenue Service Agents at a cost of an additional $10 billion to the taxpayers. That $10 billion is not factored in here in anyway. [Chambliss floor speech via Nexis, 3/24/10]

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV):

My amendment goes to the heart of one of the problems with this bill. There is an individual mandate that puts fines on people that can also attach civil penalties. And 16,500 new IRS agents are going to be required to be hired because of the health care reform bill. [Ensign floor speech via Nexis, 3/25/10]

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI):

There is an individual mandate. It mandates individuals purchase government-approved health insurance or face a fine to be collected by the IRS which will need $10 billion additional and 16,500 new IRS agents to police and enforce this mandate. [Ryan floor speech via Nexis, 3/21/10]

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX):

Then we look at the opportunity as we go through the bill to see that this health care bill, and other bills like we are having here today, simply empower other people, bigger government: 16,000 new IRS agents will be hired simply to make sure that this health care bill is enforced. [Sessions floor speech via Nexis, 3/23/10]

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL):

There is $10 billion to hire about 16,000 new IRS agents to enforce the individual mandate on every American. [Stearns floor speech via Nexis, 3/25/10]

FactCheck.org Deemed This A "Wildly Inaccurate Claim"

FactCheck.org Deemed The GOP's IRS Claim "Wildly Inaccurate." According to FactCheck.org:

This wildly inaccurate claim started as an inflated, partisan assertion that 16,500 new IRS employees might be required to administer the new law. That devolved quickly into a claim, made by some Republican lawmakers, that 16,500 IRS "agents" would be required. Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas even claimed in a televised interview that all 16,500 would be carrying guns. None of those claims is true.

The IRS' main job under the new law isn't to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them - starting this year - which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer's contribution toward their workers' health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies - in the form of refundable tax credits - to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.


The GOP staff analysis projected only the number of new "employees," but some Republican lawmakers immediately misrepresented the findings by claiming that all the new workers would be "agents." GOP Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan stated in a press release that "Up to 16,500 New IRS Agents" would be required. And he's not the only one making such a claim. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said on "Fox News Sunday" on March 21 that the IRS would get "16,000 agents to police this new mandate." In a March 25 speech on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada said: "And 16,500 new IRS agents are going to be required to be hired because of the health care reform bill. Do we want IRS agents showing up at people's houses, not only to audit them because of their taxes but because now they are not paying an individual mandate fine?"

But there's a huge difference between an IRS revenue agent - who calls on taxpayers and conducts face-to-face audits - and the workers who make up the bulk of IRS employees. Those who work at the IRS include clerks, accountants, computer programmers, telephone help line workers and other support staff. In fact, IRS revenue agents make up only 15 percent of the IRS workforce, according to the official IRS personnel summary. It shows that of the 93,337 employees the IRS had on board as of the end of the last fiscal year (September 31, 2009) only 14,264 were actually working as revenue agents. Even adding in "revenue officers" (who collect money owed) and "special agents" (who handle criminal cases and are law-enforcement officers) the total working in the enforcement area comes to less than 25 percent of all IRS workers.

Rep. Camp should know that - he's the senior Republican member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the IRS. This misrepresentation of the inflated "employee" figure has since been picked up and repeated by countless conservative blogs and news sites. But however often it is repeated, it is still false. [FactCheck.org, 3/30/10]