Internal Revenue Service
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the revenue service of the
United States federal government. The government agency is a bureau of
the Department of the Treasury, and is under the immediate direction
of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who is appointed to a
five-year term by the President of the United States. The IRS is
responsible for collecting taxes and administering the Internal
Revenue Code, the main body of federal statutory tax law of the United
States. The duties of the IRS include providing tax assistance to
taxpayers and pursuing and resolving instances of erroneous or
fraudulent tax filings. The IRS has also overseen various benefits
programs, and enforces portions of the Affordable Care Act.
The IRS originated with the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, a
federal office created in 1862 to assess the nation's first income
tax, which was to raise funds for the American Civil War. The
temporary measure provided over a fifth of the Union's war expenses
and was allowed to expire a decade later. In 1913, the Sixteenth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified authorizing Congress
to impose a tax on income, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue was
established. In 1953, the agency was renamed the Internal Revenue
Service and significantly reorganized. The Tax Reform Act of 1986
modernized the IRS and restructured it along a private sector model.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the IRS processed almost 240 million returns
and collected approximately $3.3 trillion in revenue, spending 35¢
for every $100 it collected.
American Civil War
American Civil War (1861–65)
1.2 Post Civil War, Reconstruction, and popular tax reform
2 Wars (1900–2000)
2.1 Presidential tax returns (1973)
2.2 Computerization (1959–present)
2.3 History of the IRS name
3 Current organization
Tax collection statistics
4.1 Outsourcing collection and tax-assistance
5 Administrative functions
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
See also: Taxation history of the United States
American Civil War
American Civil War (1861–65)
George S. Boutwell
George S. Boutwell was the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue
under President Abraham Lincoln.
In July 1862, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln
and Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1862, creating the office of
Commissioner of Internal Revenue
Commissioner of Internal Revenue and enacting a temporary income tax
to pay war expenses.
Revenue Act of 1862 was passed as an emergency and temporary
war-time tax. It copied a relatively new British system of income
taxation, instead of trade and property taxation. The first income tax
was passed in 1862:
The initial rate was 3% on income over $800, which exempted most
In 1862 the rate was 3% on income between $600 and $10,000, and 5% on
income over $10,000.
In 1864 the rate was 5% on income between $600 and $5,000; 7.5% on
income $5,000–10,000; and 10% on income $10,000 and above.
By the end of the war, 10% of Union households had paid some form of
income tax, and the Union raised 21% of its war revenue through income
Post Civil War, Reconstruction, and popular tax reform
After the Civil War, Reconstruction, railroads, and transforming the
North and South war machines towards peacetime required public
funding. However, in 1872, seven years after the war, lawmakers
allowed the temporary Civil War income tax to expire.
Income taxes evolved, but in 1894 the Supreme Court declared the
Income Tax of 1894 unconstitutional in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan &
Trust Co., a decision that contradicted Hylton v. United States.
The federal government scrambled to raise money.
In 1906, with the election of President Theodore Roosevelt, and later
his successor William Howard Taft, the
United States saw a populist
movement for tax reform. This movement culminated during then
candidate Woodrow Wilson's election of 1912 and in February 1913, the
ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes,
from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several
States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
This granted Congress the specific power to impose an income tax
without regard to apportionment among the states by population. By
February 1913, 36 states had ratified the change to the Constitution.
It was further ratified by six more states by March. Of the 48 states
at the time, 42 ratified it. Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Utah
rejected the amendment; Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida did not
take up the issue.
People filing tax forms in 1920.
In the first year after ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, no
taxes were collected. Instead, taxpayers simply completed the form and
the IRS checked the form for accuracy. The IRS's workload jumped by
ten-fold, triggering a massive restructuring. Professional tax
collectors began to replace a system of "patronage" appointments. The
IRS doubled its staff, but was still processing 1917 returns in
A constitutional amendment to allow the Federal government to collect
income taxes was proposed by President Taft in 1909, but the 16th
Amendment was not ratified until 1913, just before the start of the
First World War. In 1913 the first edition of the 1040 form was
introduced. A copy of the very first IRS 1040 form, can be found at
the IRS website showing that only those with incomes of $3,000
(adjusted for inflation, the equivalent of $74,986 in 2017) or more
were instructed to file.
Income tax raised much of the money required
to finance the war effort; in 1918 a new Revenue Act established a top
tax rate of 77%.
In 1919 the IRS was tasked with enforcement of laws relating to
prohibition of alcohol sales and manufacture; this was transferred to
the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice in 1930. After repeal in
1933, the IRS resumed collection of taxes on beverage alcohol. The
alcohol, tobacco and firearms activities of the bureau were segregated
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 1972.
A new tax act was passed in 1942 as the
United States entered the
Second World War. This act included a special wartime surcharge. The
number of American citizens who paid income tax increased from about 4
million in 1939 to over 42 million by 1945.
In 1953, President Truman's reform plan was carried out and the
"patronage" system of appointments was ended. The organization's name
was formally changed from "Bureau of Internal Revenue" to "Internal
Revenue Service". In 1954 the filing deadline was moved to April 15.
The first electronic computers were put to work at the IRS in 1961. By
1986, limited electronic filing of tax returns was possible.
The 1998 IRS Reform act changed the organization from geographically
oriented to an organization based on four operating divisions.
Presidential tax returns (1973)
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the IRS began using technology such
as microfilm to keep and organize records. Access to this information
proved controversial, when President Richard Nixon's tax returns were
leaked to the public. His tax advisor, Edward L. Morgan, became the
fourth law-enforcement official to be charged with a crime during
John Requard, Jr., accused of leaking the Nixon tax returns, collected
delinquent taxes in the slums of Washington. In his words: "We went
after people for nickels and dimes, many of them poor and in many
cases illiterate people who didn't know how to deal with a government
agency." Requard admitted that he saw the returns, but denied that he
Reporter Jack White of The Providence Journal, won the Pulitzer Prize
for reporting about Nixon's tax returns. Nixon, with a salary of
$200,000, paid $792.81 in federal income tax in 1970 and $878.03 in
1971, with deductions of $571,000 for donating "vice-presidential
papers". This was one of the reasons for his famous statement:
"Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."
So controversial was this leak, that most later US Presidents released
their tax returns (though sometimes only partially). These returns can
be found online at the Tax History Project.
By the end of the Second World War, the IRS was handling sixty million
tax returns each year, using a combination of mechanical desk
calculators, accounting machines and pencil and paper forms. In 1948
punch card equipment was used. The first trial of a computer system
for income tax processing was in 1955, when an
IBM 650 installed at
Kansas City processed 1.1 million returns. The IRS was authorized to
proceed with computerization in 1959, and purchased
IBM 1401 and IBM
7070 systems for local and regional data processing centers. The
Social Security Number
Social Security Number was used for taxpayer identification starting
in 1965. By 1967, all returns were processed by computer and punched
card data entry was phased out.
Information processing in the IRS systems of the late 1960s was in
batch mode; microfilm records were updated weekly and distributed to
regional centers for handling tax inquiries. A project to implement an
interactive, realtime system, the "Tax Administration System" was
launched, that would provide thousands of local interactive terminals
at IRS offices. However, the
General Accounting Office
General Accounting Office prepared a
report critical of the lack of protection of privacy in TAS, and the
project was abandoned in 1978.
In 1995, the IRS began to use the public Internet for electronic
filing. Since the introduction of e-filing, self-paced online tax
services have flourished, augmenting the work of tax accountants, who
were sometimes replaced.
In 2003, the IRS struck a deal with tax software vendors: The IRS
would not develop online filing software and, in return, software
vendors would provide free e-filing to most Americans. In 2009,
70% of filers qualified for free electronic filing of federal
According to an inspector general's report, released in November 2013,
identity theft in the
United States is blamed for US$4 billion worth
of fraudulent 2012 tax refunds by the IRS. Fraudulent claims were made
with the use of stolen taxpayer identification and Social Security
numbers, with returns sent to addresses both in the US and
internationally. Following the release of the findings, the IRS stated
that it resolved most of the identity theft cases of 2013 within 120
days, while the average time to resolve cases from the 2011/2012 tax
period was 312 days.
In September 2014, IRS Commissioner
John Koskinen expressed concern
over the organization's ability to handle Obamacare and administer
premium tax credits that help people pay for health plans from the
health law’s insurance exchanges. It will also enforce the law’s
individual mandate, which requires most Americans to hold health
insurance. In January 2015,
Fox News obtained an email which
predicted a messy tax season on several fronts. The email was sent by
IRS Commissioner Koskinen to workers. Koskinen predicted the IRS would
shut down operations for two days later this year which would result
in unpaid furloughs for employees and service cuts for taxpayers.
Koskinen also said delays to IT investments of more than $200 million
may delay new taxpayer protections against identity theft. Also in
January 2015, the editorial board of
The New York Times
The New York Times called the IRS
budget cuts penny-wise-and-pound-foolish, where for every dollar of
cuts in the budget, $6 were lost in tax revenue.
History of the IRS name
IRS and Department of the Treasury seal on lectern
As early as the year 1918, the Bureau of Internal Revenue began using
the name "Internal Revenue Service" on at least one tax form. In
1953, the name change to the "Internal Revenue Service" was formalized
in Treasury Decision 6038.
The 1980s saw a reorganization of the IRS. A bipartisan commission was
created with several mandates, among them to increase customer service
and improve collections. Congress later enacted the Internal
Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998.
As a result of that Act, the IRS now functions under four major
operating divisions: Large Business and International division
(LB&I), the Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) division, the
Wage and Investment (W&I) division, and Tax Exempt &
Government Entities (TE/GE) division. Effective October 1, 2010, the
name of the Large and Mid-Size Business division changed to the Large
Business & International (LB&I) division. The IRS also
includes a criminal law enforcement division (IRS Criminal
Investigation Division). While there is some evidence that customer
service has improved, lost tax revenues in 2001 were over $323
The IRS has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and does most of its
computer programming in Maryland. It currently operates five
submission processing centers which process returns sent by mail and
returns filed electronically via E-file. Different types of returns
are processed at the various centers with some centers processing
individual returns and others processing business returns.
Originally there were ten submission processing centers across the
country. In the early 2000s the IRS closed five centers: Andover, MA;
Holtsville, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Atlanta, GA; and Memphis, TN. This
currently leaves five centers processing returns: Austin, TX;
Covington, KY; Fresno, CA; Kansas City, MO; and Ogden, UT. In October
2016 the IRS announced that three more centers will close over a
six-year period: Covington, KY in 2019; Fresno, CA in 2021; and
Austin, TX in 2024. This will leave Kansas City, MO and Ogden, UT as
the final two submission processing centers after 2024.
The IRS also operates three computer centers around the country (in
Detroit, Michigan; Martinsburg, West Virginia; and Memphis,
Main article: Commissioner of Internal Revenue
There have been 47 previous commissioners of Internal Revenue and 26
acting commissioners since the agency was created in 1862.
Senior official at the
Office of Management and Budget
Office of Management and Budget Daniel Werfel
was announced as the acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue.
Werfel, who attended law school at the University of North Carolina
and attained a master's degree from Duke University, prepared the
government for a potential shutdown in 2011 by determining which
services that would remain in existence.
No IRS commissioner has served more than five years and one month
since Guy Helvering, who served 10 years until 1943. The most
recent commissioner to serve the longest term was Doug Shulman, who
was appointed by President
George W. Bush
George W. Bush and served for five
The Office of the
Taxpayer Advocate, also called the
Service, is an independent office within the IRS responsible for
assisting taxpayers in resolving their problems with the IRS, as well
as identifying systemic problems that exist within the IRS. The
Taxpayer Advocate, also known as the National
Taxpayer Advocate, is Nina E. Olson.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the
Elderly (TCE) are volunteer programs that the IRS runs to train
volunteers and provide tax assistance and counseling to taxpayers.
Volunteers can study e-course material, take tests, and practice using
tax-preparation software. Link & Learn Taxes (searchable by
keyword on the IRS website), is the free e-learning portion of
VITA/TCE program for training volunteers.
Tax collection statistics
Collections before Refunds by Type of Return, Fiscal Year 2010
Individual income tax (49.9%)
Employment taxes (35.3%)
Corporate income taxes (11.9%)
Excise taxes (2.0%)
Estate taxes (0.7%)
Summary of Collections before Refunds by Type of Return, Fiscal Year
Type of Return
Number of Returns
to the nearest million US$
Individual Income Tax
Corporate Income Tax
New York City
New York City field office for the IRS.
For fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Congress appropriated spending of
approximately $12.624 billion of "discretionary budget authority" to
operate the Department of the Treasury, of which $11.522 billion was
allocated to the IRS. The projected estimate of the budget for the IRS
for fiscal year 2011 was $12.633 billion. By contrast, during
Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, the IRS collected more than $2.2 trillion in
tax (net of refunds), about 44 percent of which was attributable to
the individual income tax. This is partially due to the nature of the
individual income tax category, containing taxes collected from
working class, small business, self-employed, and capital gains. The
top 5% of income earners pay 38.284% of the federal tax
As of 2007, the agency estimates that the
United States Treasury is
owed $354 billion more than the amount the IRS collects.
In 2011, 234 million tax returns were filed allowing the IRS to
collect $2.4 trillion out of which $384 billion were attributed to
mistake or fraud.
Outsourcing collection and tax-assistance
In September 2006, the IRS started to outsource the collection of
taxpayers debts to private debt collection agencies. Opponents to this
change note that the IRS will be handing over personal information to
these debt collection agencies, who are being paid between 29% and 39%
of the amount collected. Opponents are also worried about the
agencies' being paid on percent collected, because it will encourage
the collectors to use pressure tactics to collect the maximum amount.
IRS spokesman Terry Lemons responds to these critics saying the new
system "is a sound, balanced program that respects taxpayers' rights
and taxpayer privacy." Other state and local agencies also use private
In March 2009, the IRS announced that it would no longer outsource the
collection of taxpayers debts to private debt collection agencies. The
IRS decided not to renew contracts to private debt collection
agencies, and began a hiring program at its call sites and processing
centers across the country to bring on more personnel to process
collections internally from taxpayers. As of October 2009, the IRS
has ceased using private debt collection agencies.
In September 2009, after undercover exposé videos of questionable
activities by staff of one of the IRS's volunteer tax-assistance
organizations were made public, the IRS removed ACORN from its
volunteer tax-assistance program.
The IRS publishes tax forms which taxpayers are required to choose
from and use for calculating and reporting their federal tax
obligations. The IRS also publishes a number of forms for its own
internal operations, such as Forms 3471 and 4228 (which are used
during the initial processing of income tax returns).
In addition to collection of revenue and pursuing tax cheaters, the
IRS issues administrative rulings such as revenue rulings and private
letter rulings. In addition, the Service publishes the Internal
Revenue Bulletin containing the various IRS pronouncements. The
controlling authority of regulations and revenue rulings allows
taxpayers to rely on them. A private letter ruling is good for the
taxpayer to whom it is issued, and gives some explanation of the
Service's position on a particular tax issue. Additionally, a
private letter ruling reasonably relied upon by a taxpayer allows for
the waiver of penalties for underpayment of tax.
As is the case with all administrative pronouncements, taxpayers
sometimes litigate the validity of the pronouncements, and courts
sometimes determine a particular rule to be invalid where the agency
has exceeded its grant of authority. The IRS also issues formal
pronouncements called Revenue Procedures, that among other things tell
taxpayers how to correct prior tax errors. The IRS's own internal
operations manual is the Internal Revenue Manual, which describes the
clerical procedures for processing and auditing tax returns in
excruciating detail. For example, the
Internal Revenue Manual contains
a special procedure for processing the tax returns of the President
and Vice President of the United States.
More formal rulemaking to give the Service's interpretation of a
statute, or when the statute itself directs that the Secretary of the
Treasury shall provide, IRS undergoes the formal regulation process
Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal
Register announcing the proposed regulation, the date of the in-person
hearing, and the process for interested parties to have their views
heard either in person at the hearing in Washington, D.C., or by mail.
Following the statutory period provided in the Administrative
Procedure Act the Service decides on the final regulations "as is," or
as reflecting changes, or sometimes withdraws the proposed
regulations. Generally, taxpayers may rely on proposed regulations
until final regulations become effective. For example, human resource
professionals are relying on the October 4, 2005 Proposed
Regulations (citation 70 F.R. 57930-57984) for the Section
409A on deferred compensation (the so-called
Enron rules on deferred
compensation to add teeth to the old rules) because regulations have
not been finalized.
The IRS oversaw the Homebuyer Credit and First Time Homebuyer Credit
programs instituted by the federal government from 2008-2010. Those
United States citizens with money toward the
purchase of homes, regardless of income tax filings.
See also: Political profiling at the Internal Revenue Service
The IRS has been accused of abusive behavior on multiple
occasions. Testimony was given before a Senate
subcommittee that focused on cases of overly aggressive IRS collection
tactics in considering a need for legislation to give taxpayers
greater protection in disputes with the agency.
Congress passed the
Taxpayer Bill of Rights III on July 22, 1998,
which shifted the burden of proof from the taxpayer to the IRS in
certain limited situations. The IRS retains the legal authority to
enforce liens and seize assets without obtaining judgment in
In 2002, the IRS accused James and Pamela Moran, as well as several
others, of conspiracy, filing false tax returns and mail fraud as part
of the Anderson Ark investment scheme. The Moran's were eventually
acquitted, and their attorney stated that the government should have
realized that the couple was merely duped by those running the
In 2004, the law licenses of two former IRS lawyers were suspended
after a federal court ruled that they defrauded the courts so the IRS
could win a sum in tax shelter cases.
In 2013, the IRS became embroiled in a political scandal in which it
was discovered that the agency subjected conservative or
conservative-sounding groups filing for tax-exempt status to extra
On September 5, 2014, 16 months after the scandal first erupted, a
Senate Subcommittee released a report that confirmed that Internal
Revenue Service used inappropriate criteria to target Tea Party
groups, but found no evidence of political bias. The chairman of
the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations confirmed that
while the actions were "inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome," the
Democrats have often experienced similar treatment. Republicans
noted that 83% of the groups being held up by the IRS were
right-leaning; and the Subcommittee Minority staff, which did not join
the Majority staff report, filed a dissenting report entitled, “IRS
Targeting Tea Party Groups.”
On May 25, 2015, the agency announced that criminals had illegally
accessed the private tax information of over 100,000 taxpayers over a
period of several months. By providing Social Security Numbers and
other information obtained from prior computer crimes, the criminals
were able to use the IRS's online "Get Transcript" function to have
the IRS provide them with the tax returns and other private
information of American tax filers. On August 17, 2015, IRS
disclosed that the breach had compromised an additional 220,000
taxpayer records. On February 27, 2016, the IRS disclosed that
more than 700,000 social security numbers and other sensitive
information had been stolen.
Government of the
United States portal
Tax evasion in the United States
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