Culture & the Family

IRS leak of confidential information troubling

June 25, 2021

Curtis Shelton

The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating the unauthorized release of confidential information about several wealthy Americans. It turns out that IRS data was leaked to journalists, revealing tax and income information on a number of wealthy individuals, including Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos.

Because it has never been unpopular to bash the wealthy, the focus of the resulting news story was on the individuals themselves and how much they paid (or didn’t pay) in taxes. But putting aside the curiosity of how much Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos paid in taxes, the unauthorized leak itself is troubling.

While most Americans agree that taxes are necessary, the fact remains that the Internal Revenue Service operates through force. It doesn’t matter if you agree with how much money the government spends or what it spends it on. If you don’t pay your taxes, you are faced with fines and imprisonment. As former OCPA trustee Tom Coburn once pointed out in The Wall Street Journal (“Why does the IRS need guns?”), from 2005 through 2014 “the Internal Revenue Service, which has 2,316 special agents, spent nearly $11 million on guns, ammunition and military-style equipment.”

The IRS leak came at a time when some policymakers have been advocating for increased appropriations to the IRS to help with collection enforcement. Some estimates show as much as $1 trillion a year goes uncollected by the IRS.

This is yet another example of the dangers a bigger, more powerful government can pose. The IRS leak led to the story that—breaking news!—taxpayers make use of available loopholes. Now the subsequent chatter is bolstering the Biden administration’s argument for massive tax increases to fund its infrastructure bill.

The IRS is charged with protecting this personal data. It failed. Now it may benefit from an $80 billion increase in funding. Just as taxpayers face consequences for failing to pay their taxes, let’s hope IRS employees face consequences for releasing confidential information.