United States Government Accountability Office Testimony Before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives TAX GAP For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, May 9, 2019 Multiple Strategies Are Needed to Reduce Noncompliance Statement of James R. McTigue, Jr., Director, Strategic Issues GAO-19-558T May 9, 2019 TAX GAP Multiple Strategies Are Needed to Reduce Noncompliance Highlights of GAO-19-558T, a testimony before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives Why GAO Did This Study What GAO Found The tax gap—the difference between The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) latest tax gap estimate (2016) found that tax amounts that taxpayers should have taxpayers voluntarily and timely paid about 81.7 percent of owed taxes for tax paid and what they actually paid years 2008-2010, leaving an annual gross tax gap of $458 billion. IRS estimated voluntarily and on time—has been a a net tax gap—after late payments and enforcement actions—of $406 billion. persistent problem for decades. The tax gap estimate is an aggregate estimate IRS’s Annual Average Tax Gap Estimate for Tax Years 2008-2010 of the five types of taxes that IRS administers—individual income, corporation income, employment, estate, and excise taxes. For each tax type, IRS attempts to estimate the tax gap based on three types of noncompliance: (1) underreporting of tax liabilities on timely filed tax returns; (2) underpayment of taxes due from timely filed returns; and (3) nonfiling, when a taxpayer fails to file a required tax return on time or altogether. This testimony discusses factors contributing to the tax gap and strategies to reduce it. This testimony is based on prior GAO reports on the tax gap and enforcement of tax laws, including those with open GAO’s work has found that three important factors contribute to the tax gap. recommendations or matters for congressional consideration that could • Limited third party information reporting. The extent to which individual help reduce the tax gap. taxpayers accurately report their income is closely aligned with whether third Enforcement of tax laws has been on parties (e.g., employers) report income (e.g., wages) to them and to IRS. GAO’s High Risk List since its inception • IRS resource tradeoffs. IRS’s budget and staffing levels have fallen over in 1990, and GAO has made various the past decade, and IRS faces increasing responsibilities, such as recommendations to IRS and implementing Public Law 115-97—commonly known as the Tax Cuts and suggestions to Congress to reduce the Jobs Act—which involved significant changes to tax law. tax gap that have resulted in improvements. For example, GAO • Tax code complexity. The federal tax system contains complex rules that recommended that IRS consider may be necessary to appropriately target tax policy goals; however, this can comparing individuals’ tax returns with engender errors and lead to underpaid taxes. the information educational institutions report to verify taxpayers’ education tax GAO’s work has demonstrated that no single approach will fully and cost- benefits claims and suggested that effectively address noncompliance since the problem has multiple causes and Congress require brokers to report to spans different types of taxes and taxpayers. In light of these challenges, GAO both taxpayers and IRS the adjusted has made numerous recommendations to IRS—some of which have not yet cost of the securities sold by taxpayers. been implemented—such as developing and documenting a strategy that These actions resulted in billions of outlines how IRS will use data to update compliance approaches to help address dollars in additional revenue. the tax gap. Reducing the tax gap will also require targeted legislative actions. For example, expanding third-party information reporting could increase View GAO-19-558T. For more information, voluntary compliance and providing IRS with the authority to regulate paid tax contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512- return preparers could improve the accuracy of the tax returns they prepare. 9110 or McTigueJ@gao.gov. ______________________________________ United States Government Accountability Office Letter Letter Chairman Neal, Ranking Member Brady, and Members of the Committee: I am pleased to be here today to discuss the tax gap—the difference between tax amounts that taxpayers should pay and what they actually pay voluntarily and on time. The most recent data available show that, in 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated an average annual gross tax gap of $458 billion for tax years 2008 to 2010. IRS estimated that through late payments and enforcement actions, it will collect an additional $52 billion annually for tax years 2008 to 2010, resulting in an average annual net tax gap of $406 billion. The tax gap has been a persistent problem for decades, and enforcement of tax laws has been on our High Risk List since its inception in 1990. 1 We have previously reported that there are no easy fixes to this problem, and given persistent levels of noncompliance, reducing the tax gap will not likely be achieved through a single solution. Rather, the tax gap must be attacked on multiple fronts with multiple strategies over a sustained period of time. Even modest reductions to the tax gap would yield significant financial benefits and help improve the government’s fiscal position. For example, just a 1 percent reduction of the 2008-2010 average annual net tax gap would have resulted in about $4 billion more in annual revenue for those years. For illustrative purposes, for fiscal year 2019, this amount of revenue could fund about 82 percent of IRS’s enforcement budget; the entire operation of the U.S. Census Bureau; or the combined federal budgets of the national park system Operations account, Smithsonian Institution, and the National Archives and Records Administration. 2 My testimony today discusses (1) factors contributing to the tax gap and (2) strategies for reducing the tax gap. My comments are based on prior reports on the tax gap and enforcement of tax laws, including those with 1 Every 2 years, we issue a list of programs and operations that are “high risk” due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or that need transformation. Progress in addressing areas on this list has led to more than $350 billion in financial benefits to the federal government in the past 13 years. For the most recent update, from March 2019, see GAO, High-Risk Series: Substantial Efforts Needed to Achieve Greater Progress on High-Risk Areas, GAO-19-157SP (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 6, 2019). 2 For fiscal year 2019, IRS’s enforcement budget was $4.86 billion; the entire operation of the U.S. Census Bureau was $3.8 billion; and the combined budgets of the national park system Operations account ($2.5 billion), Smithsonian Institution ($1.0 billion), and the National Archives and Records Administration ($0.4 billion) was about $4 billion. Page 1 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap open recommendations or matters for congressional consideration that could help reduce the tax gap. 3 The products cited throughout this statement include detailed explanations of the methods used to conduct our work. We conducted the work on which this statement is based in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. In April 2016, IRS released its most recent tax gap estimate, stating that Background taxpayers should have paid an average of about $2.5 trillion dollars per year in federal taxes for tax years 2008 to 2010. Of this amount, IRS estimated that taxpayers voluntarily and timely paid about 81.7 percent, or $2.04 trillion, leaving $458 billion in unpaid taxes per year, as shown in figure 1. 4 3 For example, see GAO, Internal Revenue Service: Strategic Human Capital Management is Needed to Address Serious Risks to IRS’s Mission, GAO-19-176 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 26, 2019); Tax Gap: IRS Needs Specific Goals and Strategies for Improving Compliance, GAO-18-39 (Washington, D.C.: Oct 31, 2017); Fiscal Outlook: Addressing Improper Payments and the Tax Gap Would Improve the Government’s Fiscal Position, GAO-16-92T (Washington, D.C.: Oct 1, 2015); Tax Gap: IRS Could Do More to Promote Compliance by Third Parties with Miscellaneous Income Reporting Requirements, GAO-09-238 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 28, 2009); and Tax Gap: Actions That Could Improve Rental Real Estate Reporting Compliance, GAO-08-956 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 28, 2008). 4 In its financial statements, IRS reported that taxpayers paid an average of $2.5 trillion per year for 2008–2010. However, this figure represents gross collections, which includes amounts to be refunded to taxpayers, as well as penalties, interest, and enforcement revenue, which are not paid voluntarily. Additionally, the financial statement amounts are calculated on a fiscal year basis, while the tax gap is calculated on a tax year basis. Page 2 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Figure 1: IRS’s Annual Average Tax Gap Estimate for Tax Years 2008 to 2010 The tax gap estimate is an aggregate estimate of the five types of taxes that IRS administers—individual income, corporation income, employment, estate, and excise taxes. 5 For each tax type, IRS attempts to estimate the tax gap based on three types of noncompliance: (1) underreporting of tax liabilities on timely-filed tax returns; (2) underpayment of taxes due from timely-filed returns; and (3) nonfiling, when a taxpayer fails to file a required tax return altogether or on time. Underreporting of tax liabilities accounted for most of the tax gap estimate for tax years 2008 to 2010, making up 84 percent of the entire estimated gross tax gap, as shown in figure 2. 5 Employment taxes include both employer-withheld employment taxes and self- employment taxes. Page 3 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Figure 2: Estimated Average Annual Gross Tax Gap by Type of Noncompliance and Tax, Tax Years 2008 to 2010 Note: Data may not sum to totals because of rounding. Individual income tax includes individual business income tax. Estate tax underreporting noncompliance is not shown in this graphic because it represents less than one-half percent of total underreporting noncompliance. Excise tax is not shown in this graphic because IRS does not have excise tax underreporting noncompliance or nonfiling noncompliance estimates, and its estimate for excise tax underpayment noncompliance represents less than one-half percent of total underpayment noncompliance. In addition, IRS does not have a corporation income tax estimate for nonfiling noncompliance. Individual income taxes made up the largest portion ($264 billion) of underreporting. Underreporting of business income accounted for nearly half ($125 billion) of that amount, as shown in table 1. Business income underreporting includes income from sole proprietors, which accounted for the largest share ($78 billion) of individual income tax underreporting. 6 6 Sole proprietors are self-employed individuals who should file a Schedule C with their individual tax return to report profits and losses from their business. Sole proprietors include those who provide services, such as doctors or accountants; produce goods, such as manufacturers; and sell goods, such as car dealers and grocers. Page 4 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Table 1: Estimated Average Annual Individual Income Underreporting Tax Gap by Tax Return Item or Category, Tax Years 2008 to 2010 Dollars in billions Tax return items or category Tax gap estimate Business income 125 Sole proprietor income 78 Income from partnerships, S corporations, 22 estates/trusts Rents and royalties 20 Farming income/loss 5 Non-business income 64 a Other income 29 Capital gains 11 Taxable Social Security benefits 7 Pensions and annuities 5 Wages 5 Business sale/Form 4797 income 4 Dividends 1 Interest 1 State income tax refunds 1 Unemployment compensation 1 Credits 40 Earned income tax credit 27 Child tax credit 7 Education credits 4 Other credits 2 Deductions 18 b Unallocated marginal effects 12 Exemptions 6 Filing status 5 Other taxes 1 c Adjustments -5 Total individual income underreporting 264 Source: Internal Revenue Service data. | GAO-19-558T Note: Data may not sum to total because of rounding. a Other income includes any taxable income not reported elsewhere on the tax return or other schedules—such as gambling winnings, rental of personal property, and canceled debts—as well as deductions for net operating losses. b Unallocated marginal effects represent the difference between the total estimated tax gap for individual income tax underreporting and the sum of tax gap estimates of individual income tax Page 5 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap underreporting by tax return line item. This discrepancy occurs whenever more than one line item has been underreported on the same tax return, leading to an understatement of the true tax gap. c Adjustments are the line items that are subtracted from the total income line to arrive at adjusted gross income. For the 2008–2010 estimate, the majority of the adjustments can be attributed to understated individual income tax deductions for self-employment tax. Underreported self- employment income can lead to an underreported self-employment tax liability, which, in turn, can lead to understated income tax deductions for self-employment tax. IRS uses various approaches to estimate the different components of the tax gap. A primary source of information IRS uses is its National Research Program (NRP) study of individual tax returns. Through NRP, IRS examines a stratified, random sample of tax returns, and uses statistical modeling to produce estimates of noncompliance for the population of individual income tax return filers. Other areas of the tax gap are estimated using payment data or other statistical models. In 2016, IRS completed examinations for an NRP study on employment tax returns filed from tax years 2008 to 2010. IRS employees reported that they plan to start analyzing the results by June 2019. However, IRS has not provided plans for how it will use the results to update the current state of the employment tax gap estimate, as we previously recommended. 7 The tax gap includes unintentional errors as well as intentional evasion, such as intentionally underreporting income, intentionally overreporting expenses, and engaging in abusive tax shelters or frivolous tax schemes. 8 As we have previously reported, completely closing the tax gap is not feasible, as it would entail more intrusive enforcement and more burdensome recordkeeping or reporting than the public is willing to accept, and more resources than IRS is able to commit. 9 However, even modest reductions would yield significant financial benefits and help improve the government’s fiscal position. 7 GAO, Employment Taxes: Timely Use of National Research Program Results Would Help IRS Improve Compliance and Tax Gap Estimates, GAO-17-371 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 18, 2017). 8 By definition, legal tax avoidance (i.e., legally lowering tax liability) is not included in the tax gap. IRS has not developed specific estimates for the tax gap related to income earned from illegal activities or certain forms of fraud. However, if IRS discovers these types of income over the course of an audit, it could be included in the tax gap estimates. In general, refund fraud related to identity theft would not be included in the tax gap estimate because it does not involve evading a tax liability. 9 GAO, Tax Gap: Sources of Noncompliance and Strategies to Reduce It, GAO-12-651T (Washington, D.C: Apr 19, 2012). Page 6 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Tax noncompliance, even when unintentional, could discourage compliant taxpayers and undermines the integrity of the tax system and the public’s confidence in it. For example, consider two groups of taxpayers with similar tax situations—those who pay the full amount of tax due and those who do not. Those who do not pay taxes are not meeting their obligation to fund government services, which, in effect, shifts the fiscal burden to those who do pay. Further, IRS devotes resources to attempt to collect taxes due from noncompliant taxpayers—resources that could be used for other purposes. In addition, noncompliance can create an unfair competitive advantage among businesses because those that do not pay tax debts are avoiding costs that tax-compliant businesses are incurring. For example, our past investigations identified instances in which federal contractors with tax debts won awards based on price differentials over tax compliant contractors. 10 Our past work has found that three important factors contributing to the Key Factors tax gap are the extent to which income is reported to IRS by third parties, Contributing to the IRS’s resource trade-offs, and tax code complexity. Tax Gap Include Limited Third-party Information Reporting, Resource Trade-offs, and Complexities in the Tax Code Limited Third-Party As we have previously reported, the extent to which individual income tax Information Reporting taxpayers accurately report their income is closely aligned with the 10 We made recommendations to IRS, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Financial Management Service, and the Office of Management and Budget to address issues with delinquent federal contractors. See GAO, Financial Management: Thousands of Civilian Agency Contractors Abuse the Federal Tax System with Little Consequence, GAO-05-637 (Washington, D.C.: June 16, 2005), and Financial Management: Some DOD Contractors Abuse the Federal Tax System with Little Consequence, GAO-04-95 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 12, 2004). Page 7 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap amount of income that third parties report to them and to IRS. For example, according to 2008–2010 IRS data, taxpayers misreported more than half of the types of income for which there is little or no third-party information reporting, such as business income (see figure 3). In contrast, when employers both withheld taxes from, and reported information on, wages and salaries to employees and IRS (through Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement), taxpayers misreported on only 1 percent of such income. Similarly, taxpayers misreported less than 10 percent of investment income that banks and other financial institutions reported to account holders and IRS (through Forms 1099). Figure 3: Effect of Third-Party Information Reporting on Individual Income Tax Compliance, Tax Years 2008 to 2010 Note: Net misreporting percentage is the sum of the net misreported amount divided by the absolute values (over or underreported) of the amounts that should have been reported, expressed as a percentage. a IRS receives information from third parties that it uses to verify income or deduction amounts that taxpayers report on their tax returns. IRS categorized various line items on the individual income tax return into four different groupings of third-party reporting in IRS Publication 5161, Estimation of the Underreporting Tax Gap for Tax Years 2008–2010: Methodology Research, Analysis and Statistics Page 8 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Technical Paper, September 2016. However, IRS did not provide a scale to define the differences between substantial, some, and little or no third-party information reporting. For items subject to substantial third-party information reporting, IRS is able to use automated processes to address noncompliance. The automated underreporter program, through which IRS matches amounts reported on tax returns with amounts reported on information returns submitted by third parties, is one such process. This computer matching program allows IRS to identify discrepancies between tax returns and information returns, and propose automatic changes to taxpayers. 11 For items with little to no third-party information reporting, IRS must rely on more resource-intensive methods, such as correspondence or face-to- face examinations, to address noncompliance. While these examinations may be started by reviewing specific tax return line items, they may also be expanded to cover other areas of the tax returns if there are indications of misreporting in areas of the return not previously identified. However, it is harder for IRS to detect noncompliance in areas with little third-party information reporting. IRS Resource Trade-offs IRS’s budget declined by about $2.6 billion (18.8 percent) from fiscal years 2011 through 2019, and IRS’s budget for fiscal year 2019 is less than its fiscal year 2000 budget, after adjusting for inflation (see figure 4). 12 11 Sometimes, if the discrepancy exceeds a certain tax threshold, an automated underreporter reviewer will contact a taxpayer asking for an explanation of the discrepancy or payment if additional taxes are assessed. 12 In 2018 dollars. Page 9 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap Figure 4: IRS Appropriations Nominal and Inflation Adjusted (2018 Dollars, in Millions), from Fiscal Years 2000 through 2019 Note: Inflation adjustments were made using Bureau of Economic Analysis data and Congressional Budget Office projections of the fiscal year chain weighted gross domestic product price index. The fiscal year 2008 enacted budget includes supplemental funding for Economic Stimulus payment of $202.1M. Since fiscal year 2011, IRS staffing has fallen from 95,544 full-time equivalent employees to an estimated 75,676 in fiscal year 2019, a 20.8 percent reduction. At the same time, IRS faces increasing responsibilities, such as implementing relevant aspects of Public Law 115-97, which included significant changes to corporate and individual tax law. 13 IRS also faces ever-evolving and significant challenges protecting taxpayer information, preventing identity theft and fraud, and modernizing an aging technology infrastructure. 13 To provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-97, 131 Stat. 2054 (Dec. 22, 2017) (commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). Page 10 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap We previously reported that available staff has been a key factor in IRS decisions to scale back a number of program activities, such as examining tax returns, according to IRS officials. 14 Our analysis of IRS data shows the rate of individual returns audited has declined between fiscal years 2011 and 2018 (see figure 5). Reducing examinations can reduce revenues collected through such enforcement action, and may indirectly reduce voluntary compliance. Figure 5: Rates of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Individual Income Tax Return Examinations, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2019 Tax Code Complexity The federal tax system contains complex rules that may be necessary to appropriately target tax policy goals, such as providing benefits to specific groups of taxpayers. However, this complexity imposes a wide range of recordkeeping, planning, computing, and filing requirements upon taxpayers. For example, taxpayers who receive income from rents, self- employment, and other sources may be required to make complicated calculations and keep detailed records. This complexity can lead to errors and underpaid or overpaid taxes. Complexity, and the lack of 14 GAO-19-176. Page 11 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap transparency that it can create, can also exacerbate doubts about the tax system’s integrity. Tax expenditures—tax credits, deductions, exclusions, exemptions, deferrals, and preferential tax rates estimated by the Department of the Treasury to reduce tax revenue by about $1.38 trillion in fiscal year 2018—can add to tax code complexity. In part, this is because taxpayers must learn about, determine their eligibility for, and choose between tax expenditures that may have similar purposes. For example, as we reported in 2012, about 14 percent of filers in 2009 (1.5 million of almost 11 million eligible returns) did not claim an education credit or deduction for which they appeared eligible. 15 The complexity involved with tax expenditures may be acceptable if they achieve their intended purposes. 16 However, in many cases, their effectiveness is questionable or unknown. With some exceptions, tax expenditures generally are not subject to reauthorization and the annual congressional budget processes. We have recommended greater scrutiny of tax expenditures since 1994, as periodic reviews could help determine how well specific tax expenditures achieve their goals, and how their benefits and costs (including complexity) compare to those of other programs with similar goals. 17 Such actions would help facilitate oversight and accountability of tax expenditures more in line with the performance management and reporting requirements of other federal programs. Paid tax return preparers and tax software developers help taxpayers navigate the complexities of the tax code. However, some paid preparers may introduce their own mistakes. For example, in a limited study in 2014, we found that seven of 19 preparers who completed returns for our undercover investigators made errors with substantial tax consequences 15 GAO, Higher Education: Improved Tax Information Could Help Families Pay for College, GAO-12-560 (Washington, D.C.: May 18, 2012). 16 GAO, Tax Expenditures: IRS Data Available for Evaluations Are Limited, GAO-13-479 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 30, 2013). 17 GAO, Tax Expenditures: Opportunities Exist to Use Budgeting and Agency Performance Processes to Increase Oversight, GAO-16-622 (Washington, D.C.: July 7, 2016); Tax Expenditures: Background and Evaluation Criteria and Questions, GAO-13-167SP (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 29, 2012); Government Performance and Accountability: Tax Expenditures Represent a Substantial Federal Commitment and Need to Be Reexamined, GAO-05-690 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 23, 2005); and Tax Policy: Tax Expenditures Deserve More Scrutiny, GAO/GGD/AIMD-94-122 (Washington, D.C.: June 3, 1994). Page 12 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap while, only two preparers calculated the correct refund amount. 18 Likewise, using NRP data, which are statistically representative, we estimated that 60 percent of returns prepared by preparers contained errors. IRS’s overall approach to reducing the tax gap consists of improving Multiple Strategies services to taxpayers, and enhancing enforcement of the tax laws. In Are Needed to spite of these efforts, the percentage at which taxpayers pay their taxes voluntarily and on time has remained relatively constant over the past Reduce the Tax Gap three decades. Our past work has demonstrated that no single approach will fully and cost effectively address noncompliance since the problem has multiple causes and spans different types of taxes and taxpayers. In light of these challenges, we have made numerous recommendations to IRS that have not yet been implemented, as well as matters for congressional consideration. For example, in our most recent high-risk update, we highlighted various actions IRS should take to improve enforcement of tax laws and reduce the tax gap. 19 • Strategy for using compliance data. Developing and documenting a strategy that outlines how IRS will use data to update compliance strategies could help address the tax gap. For example, a strategy that outlines how IRS plans to use NRP data to update compliance programs and approaches would help IRS determine resource trade- offs and more fully leverage the investment it makes in compliance research, while providing Congress with a better understanding of the merits of the research it is being asked to fund. 20 18 GAO, Paid Tax Return Preparers: In a Limited Study, Preparers Made Significant Errors, GAO-14-467T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 8, 2014). 19 GAO-19-157SP. These recommendations represent only some of the recommendations we have made to IRS related to the enforcement of tax laws high-risk area. Among those recommendations are some we consider to be of highest priority—those that we believe warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies. They are highlighted because, upon implementation, they may significantly improve government operation, for example, by realizing large dollar savings; eliminating mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or making progress toward addressing a high-risk or duplication issue. For example, some priority recommendations address the need for IRS to improve taxpayer services, such as by developing strategies for providing web-based services to taxpayers and to improve telephone and correspondence services. For details of the 23 recommendations to IRS we believe should be given highest priority, see GAO, Priority Open Recommendations: Internal Revenue Service, GAO-19-324SP (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 4, 2019). 20 GAO-18-39. Page 13 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap • Voluntary compliance goal. A long-term, quantitative goal for improving voluntary compliance may provide IRS with a concrete target the agency can use in fulfilling its mission. Without a quantitative goal, it will be more difficult for IRS to determine the success of its strategies, adjust its approach when necessary, and remain focused on results, especially since factors that affect compliance change over time. 21 • Analyzing employment tax NRP study results. Developing and documenting plans to assess its NRP employment tax study results would help IRS (1) identify areas of noncompliance, (2) devise actions to address such noncompliance, and (3) update its employment tax gap estimate. Without completed analysis of the NRP employment tax study results, IRS risks using outdated data to make decisions about compliance and areas of the tax gap to pursue. 22 • Leveraging the Return Review Program. IRS’s Return Review Program (RRP) is a tool to detect and select potentially fraudulent returns to prevent the issuance of invalid refunds. Evaluating the costs and benefits of expanding RRP to analyze individual returns not claiming refunds could support other enforcement activities by streamlining the detection and treatment of other types of noncompliance and fraud. 23 Given that the tax gap has been a persistent issue, reducing it will also require targeted legislative actions, such as those we highlighted in our 2019 high-risk update. 24 • Additional third-party information reporting. Expanding third-party information reporting to IRS could increase voluntary tax compliance. For example, reporting could be required for certain payments that rental real estate owners make to service providers, such as contractors who perform repairs on their rental properties, and for payments that businesses make to corporations for services. 25 21 GAO-18-39. 22 GAO-17-371. 23 GAO, Tax Fraud and Noncompliance: IRS Could Further Leverage the Return Review Program to Strengthen Tax Enforcement, GAO-18-544 (Washington, D.C.: July 24, 2018). 24 GAO-19-157SP. 25 GAO-09-238 and GAO-08-956. Page 14 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap • Enhanced electronic filing. Requiring additional taxpayers to electronically file tax and information returns could help IRS improve compliance in a resource-efficient way. For example, expanding the mandate for corporations to electronically file their tax returns could help IRS reduce return processing costs, select the most productive tax returns to examine, and examine fewer compliant taxpayers. 26 • Math error authority. Providing IRS with authority—with appropriate safeguards—to correct math errors and to correct errors in cases where information provided by a taxpayer does not match information in government databases, among other things, could help IRS correct errors and avoid burdensome audits and taxpayer penalties. • Paid preparer regulation. Providing IRS with the authority to regulate paid tax return preparers could improve the accuracy of the tax returns they prepare. 27 Chairman Neal, Ranking Member Brady, and Members of the Committee, this completes my prepared statement. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have at this time. If you or your staff have any questions about this testimony, please GAO Contact and contact James R. McTigue, Jr. at (202) 512-9110 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this statement. Key contributors Acknowledgements to this testimony include Jeff Arkin, Assistant Director; Robyn Trotter, Analyst-in-Charge; A.J. Stephens; and Alicia White. Other staff who made key contributions to the reports cited in the testimony are identified in the source products. 26 GAO, Partnerships and S Corporations: IRS Needs to Improve Information to Address Tax Noncompliance, GAO-14-453 (Washington, D.C.: May 14, 2014). 27 GAO-14-467T. A previous study found similar results: see Paid Tax Return Preparers: In a Limited Study, Chain Preparers Made Serious Errors, GAO-06-563T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 4, 2006). (103519) Page 15 GAO-19-558T Tax Gap This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. The published product may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. 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Tax Gap: Multiple Strategies Are Needed to Reduce Noncompliance
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2019-05-09.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)