Can the IRS still collect what it's owed?

The tax deadline is here and millions of Americans are expected to file their federal returns at the last minute. Some will get refunds; others will make payments to the US Treasury. Either way, the likelihood of an audit appears slim.

Last year, the IRS audited less than a half percent of all individual returns, down from 1.7 percent in 1996, according to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which analyzes government data. TRAC listed other signs that the IRS's collection techniques are faltering:

* Follow-ups on warnings by a computer system that identifies potential cases of underreporting dropped from 1 out of 2 or 3 in the early 1990s to only 1 out of 6 last year.

* Civil lawsuits filed by the IRS against recalcitrant taxpayers dropped from 2,519 in 1992 to 641 in 1999.

* In 1992, 55 percent of corporations with $250 million or more in assets were audited. In 2000, only 31 percent were audited.

TRAC attributed the decline in audits and enforcement to reductions in IRS staff. IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti said the addition of 2,036 workers in the fiscal 2001 budget should lead to an increase in audit and collection activity beginning as soon as this year.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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