Political Correction

Gov. Barbour Repeats "16,000 IRS Agents" Lie

April 07, 2010 5:04 pm ET

In recent weeks, conservatives have spread the false claim that the federal government will hire "16,000 new IRS agents" -- or a "health gestapo" -- to enforce the Affordable Care Act.  Today on Fox News, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour became the latest Republican official to repeat this blatant lie, which has been thoroughly refuted by independent fact checkers.

 "16,000 IRS Agents"

Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS):

If we get a Republican House, Republican Senate, even with President Obama, we can try to make sure that appropriated money cannot be used to further this -- not to hire those 16,000 IRS agents that we found out after the fact were going to be needed to enforce this law that the Democrats like to think that everybody's gonna love.  If everbody's gonna love it, why do you need 16-17,000 new IRS agents to enforce it? [Fox News, 4/7/10]

FactCheck.org Called IRS Claim "Wildly Inaccurate"

FactCheck.org Deemed The GOP's IRS Claim "Wildly Inaccurate." According to the nonpartisan 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]

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