Tax-Collection Quotas Alleged Senator Contends IRS Targeted Low-, Middle-Income Taxpayers

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IRS agents struggling to meet collection quotas are targeting lower- and middle-income taxpayers "who can't afford to fight back," the chairman of a Senate committee asserted Tuesday as he began hearings into reports of tax-collection abuses.

Sen. William V. Roth Jr., R-Del., said a six-month investigation by his Finance Committee also had found that tax assessments were being levied to "simply raise the individual statistics of an IRS employee" and that it was commonplace to use tax collection quotas to rate agents or officers.

"Over the course of the next three days, we are going to see a picture of a troubled agency, one that is losing the confidence of the American people and one that all too frequently acts as if it were above the law," Roth said. The Internal Revenue Service denied that it had targeted lower-income families and small businesses for audits, and said agency statistics proved it. And it noted that collection quotas were outlawed in 1988. Frank Keith, an IRS spokesman, said the agency was forbidden to use enforcement statistics to evaluate, promote or reward employees. "If it is occurring, in my view, it would be an extremely rare circumstance," Keith said. "We may see cases presented where we would agree the case was not handled properly," Keith said. But he said most taxpayers feel they were dealt with professionally and courteously, although they may not like the end result. Democrats said they welcomed a fair and bipartisan review of IRS activities but bemoaned several recent GOP fund-raising letters seeking to capitalize on criticism of the tax agency. "People want us to do something about the IRS," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., replied when asked during a break in the hearings about one recent letter he sent out. The issue "has a lot of appeal," he said. The treasury secretary and acting IRS commissioner have apologized in advance to taxpayers who might have been harmed in cases that will be aired later this week. "I deeply regret any mistreatment of taxpayers," Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said in a letter to Roth. …

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