What a Tragedy Says About IRS Complaints in the United States

The tax collector has never been a beloved governmental employee, whether he was a part of the current civilization or past civilizations. An ancient Sumerian proverb, spoken over 4,000 years ago, expresses a sentiment with undertones that many even today would agree with: “You can have a lord, you can have a king, but the man to fear is the tax collector.”

While the history of the Internal Revenue Service in its several iterations throughout the nation’s history has been riddled with corruption scandals, it is important nonetheless to learn how to turn fear of the government entity into an understanding of the purpose of the Internal Revenue Service. This understanding could lead a citizen to file an IRS complaint that could profit many, instead of the senseless threats and acts of violence some choose as a way in which to express their frustration and outrage.

In his article written in 2010, “The Austin Tragedy and the Dangerous Myth of the IRS Out of Control” Neil H. Buchanan of George Washington University Law School explores how a tragedy that occurred two years ago at the IRS office building in Austin, Texas underscores the nation’s view of the IRS. In February 2010, a man flew his plane into the IRS building after having lit his home on fire. Both he and one IRS employee were killed, while 13 others were injured. After his suicide terrorist attack, a long message he had left was discovered. His incoherent ramblings ranged from IRS complaints to anti-capitalist commentary. Buchanan remarks that because of the location of the attack, the media at the time focused on the IRS complaints, and, unfortunately, some decided to use the media as a way in which to attack the IRS, rather than mourning the tragedy that occurred. The “safe language of disapproval” he says they used ended in this thematic message: “’No one should condone these crimes, but the IRS really is out of control.’”

Buchanan finds it appalling that this would be the message of the mainstream media in the face of this terrorist attack, leading him to the conclusion that the reaction to this most tragic and violent IRS complaint said much more about the common citizen’s perception of the IRS. He notes that while extreme, this was not an isolated threat. The statistics he quotes are frightening: over 1000 threats had been lodged against the IRS in 2009 alone. As a result of such a hostile culture when it comes to IRS threats, armed security is sometimes even provided for IRS agents and other IRS personnel.

This statistics and actions are “especially poignant and inexplicable” to Buchanan, as he argues that the IRS is a model in its duties as a government agency. It is an agency “with a record of commendable behavior” with most of its agents who are hard-working and honest, not unscrupulous or unfeeling as often portrayed in popular culture. While taxpayers have the right to express their unhappiness at unfair treatment, and certainly deserve to report abuse when an IRS complaint is justified, it is essential to understand the IRS in its role as a tax collecting entity.

The man in Austin chose to protest the IRS in a violent way, a way that is not condonable. The IRS is not infallible, though, and as noted earlier, the appropriate way to manifest a grievance is to do it within the proper channels. To learn how to lodge an IRS complaint that will be read and noted, please visit either visit the Taxpayer Advocate Service website (the TAS is the watchdog service within the IRS who ensures that all complaints are taken and investigated) or speak to a tax attorney.


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