IRS chief pledges to work with Congress on examining tax code’s role in racial wealth disparities

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said Tuesday that his agency would work with Congress to examine any ways that the tax code contributes to racial wealth disparities.

“I’m [a] huge proponent of inclusiveness, diversity,” Rettig said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, in response to a question from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

“I think you’re possibly aware of the fact that I’m the first commissioner whose spouse came to this country as a refugee. And so I understand how people are treated in different arenas, and we’re all in,” he added. Rettig’s wife came to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam.

Brown said communities across the country are calling for an end to systemic racism following the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police, and that tax policy hasn’t been closely examined through a racial justice lens.

“The American people deserve to know that taxpayers are treated fairly by our tax laws and by our tax enforcement agencies,” Brown said. “Congress writes the tax laws. If there are ways that our current tax code exacerbates racial inequity, then it’s our job to fix it. And it’s your job, commissioner, to enforce the tax laws we write.”

Brown said there’s research showing employers often discriminate against job applicants based on their first or last names. He asked Rettig if there are safeguards to prevent the IRS from targeting taxpayers for enforcement efforts based on their names. Rettig said that such safeguards are in place.

Brown also sought assurances that audit rates don’t unintentionally have a disproportionate effect on people of color. Rettig assured Brown that there are no such discrepancies.

“We have a zero tolerance in the Internal Revenue Service for issues of discrimination. That comes from me, and every employee in the Internal Revenue Service has heard that,” Rettig said. “I’d also like to say that the fact that we have a quite diverse employee base — we are stronger because we come into the room from different doors and we work together, and we care about each other, and we care about this country.”

Tags Charles Rettig IRS racial wealth gap Sherrod Brown systemic racism tax code taxes
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