Wyden: IRS budget cuts are 'kickbacks to crime syndicates'

Wyden: IRS budget cuts are 'kickbacks to crime syndicates'

A top Senate Democrat is blasting proposed cuts to the IRS’s budget, saying the move is a boon to tax cheats and hackers.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter Alcohol industry races to save tax break by year-end deadline MORE (Ore.), the ranking member on the Finance Committee, said in a letter Wednesday that past and pending budget cuts have forced the tax agency to pull back on its enforcement work and technology infrastructure. The end result, he argued in his letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, is that more tax fraud and further cyberattacks on taxpayer information are coming.

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“Shouldn’t the American public view diminished enforcement and reduced IT spending for what they really are: tax cuts for tax cheats and kickbacks to crime syndicates?” he wrote.

Wyden argued that cyberattacks on government agencies amount to “an attack on the homeland” and cutting the budget of the affected agency makes no sense.

“I do not know of any member of Congress who would respond to an attack on the nation by cutting the resources to the agencies or persons who were the targets of the attack,” he wrote.

He also noted that when other government agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management, have been victims of cyberattacks, lawmakers have responded by boosting technology funding for those agencies. That's not the case with the IRS, which said in May hackers obtained confidential taxpayer information for more than 100,000 taxpayers.

The information obtained in the attack, which officials believe to be the work of foreign crime syndicates, led to the filing of fake returns and claims of $39 million in improperly paid tax refunds.

The tax agency’s budget has taken a beating over the last several years, as GOP lawmakers have hammered it following charges the agency improperly scrutinized conservative groups.

While investigations have found no broad effort by the agency to target conservative groups, the IRS has faced dramatic funding cuts. In 2015, it faced a budget cut of $350 million. And a House GOP funding bill for fiscal 2016 would slash its budget by another $838 million, putting it at a funding level — $10.1 billion — not seen in over a decade.

Senate appropriations legislation would slash the IRS’s budget by $470 million.

Meanwhile, the White House is pushing for a 72 percent increase to the IRS’s cybersecurity funding, updating its budget request in August in the wake of the security breach.