Rick Scott overstates potential hiring surge at the IRS

PolitiFact | U.S. Sen. Rick Scott discouraged job seekers from applying to IRS positions.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott speaks during a roundtable hosted by the Republican National Committee in Doral, June 8, 2022.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott speaks during a roundtable hosted by the Republican National Committee in Doral, June 8, 2022. [ PEDRO PORTAL | El Nuevo Herald ]
Published Aug. 21, 2022

President Joe Biden signed into law a major legislative package that includes many of his policy priorities. One particular provision is drawing ire from Republicans — funding Internal Revenue Service hiring.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., discouraged job seekers from applying to IRS positions in an “open letter” posted on his LinkedIn account. Scott, who called himself the “jobs governor” over two terms in Florida, said those IRS jobs would not survive a Republican takeover of Congress.

Scott claimed funding from Congress would make the IRS larger than several other prominent government agencies.

“As you may have heard, Democrats in Congress recently passed a bill, soon to be signed into law by President Joe Biden, which provides $80 BILLION in additional taxpayer money and drastically grows the workforce of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by adding roughly 87,000 new agents,” Scott said. “This massive expansion of the IRS will make it larger than (the) Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection and the State Department combined.”

Other Republicans have echoed this claim, with a slight difference. Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the 87,000 IRS agents would make the agency larger than the Pentagon, State Department, FBI and Border Patrol combined. (Border Patrol is part of the larger agency, Customs and Border Protection.)

Teams for Scott and DeSantis referred PolitiFact to an Aug. 6 report from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative political news website.

“If Democrats have their way, one of the most detested federal agencies — the Internal Revenue Service — will employ more bureaucrats than the Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and Border Patrol combined,” the article said. “That would make the IRS one of the largest federal agencies.”

There’s no question the infusion of funds made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act will enlarge the IRS, which has experienced years of funding cuts and workforce losses. But PolitiFact reviewed the best figures immediately available and found Scott’s claim overstates just how much the IRS staff would grow with the allotted funding compared with other agencies.

The 87,000 new employees figure comes from a 2021 report and isn’t set in stone

Many Republicans have expressed outrage over the IRS hiring 87,000 new employees. But where does this number come from? Answer: a year-old report.

In May 2021, the Treasury Department told Congress that with an extra $80 billion in funding over the next decade, it could add 86,852 new full-time equivalent positions, also known as FTEs. Rounded up, that’s 87,000 new employees.

That report is not necessarily showing how the IRS plans to use new money today. The Treasury Department says it will be several months before it decides how to spend the money.

Scott’s agency counts don’t add up

To fairly compare the workforces mentioned by Scott against the IRS growth, we searched for each agency’s “full-time equivalent” positions. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI list this information in their congressional budget requests.

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Scott also included the Pentagon and the State Department in his list. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the Defense Department, but we were unable to immediately locate its employment figures in terms of FTEs. The State Department lists employment positions by bureau and agency, and we did not find a departmentwide FTE figure.

Comparing a department like the IRS with a group of agencies, departments and offices is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. But we used the numbers that were available to assess the claim’s accuracy as best as possible.

Here’s a breakdown of each organization’s workforce using available figures:

The workforce of the Pentagon, State Department, FBI and Customs and Border Protection combined is nearly 199,000. That’s about 34,000 more positions than the IRS would have if it added 87,000 new employees at once and none of its current 78,000 employees left.

But that’s not how the funding will work.

Congressional funding and IRS hiring would be incremental

The Inflation Reduction Act will provide nearly $80 billion in funding to the IRS over the next decade, with more than half of the money earmarked for increased tax enforcement. Biden signed the bill into law Aug. 16.

Related: Democrats' climate, health care bill fulfills some Biden promises, not others

The money allows the IRS to hire as many as 87,000 full-time employees, but the staffing increases are expected to be incremental through 2031. In its 2021 report, the Treasury Department said the IRS would hire about 5,000 new employees in the first year and then aim to grow the number of new hires incrementally each consecutive year.

This comes as an estimated 50,000 employees are expected to retire or leave the IRS over the next six years, according to Natasha Sarin, the Treasury Department’s counselor for tax policy and implementation.

Additionally, the Treasury Department plan does not say all the hiring would be for auditor or other tax enforcement positions. Rather, the funding is expected to be used to cover several IRS priorities, including “hiring new specialized enforcement staff, modernizing antiquated information technology, and investing in meaningful taxpayer service,” according to the Treasury Department.

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, told PolitiFact that because of the agency’s expected departures, “the net gain in employees after 10 years would be significantly less than 86,852.”

For the past several years, the IRS has seen a decline in its budget and staff. Appropriations from Congress, when adjusted for inflation, decreased about 20% between 2010 and 2018, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Because of budget cuts, the agency’s staffing dropped by 22% during the same period. Over the past two years, the number of employees has increased slightly, but the roughly 78,000 employees at the agency in 2021 is still 18% below its 2011 staffing level of about 94,700.

Our ruling

Scott claimed that with the addition of 87,000 new agents, the IRS will be “larger than Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection and the State Department combined.”

The Inflation Reduction Act will provide funding that will allow the IRS to strengthen its workforce significantly, but just how that will play out is not set in stone. The best figures available suggest it would not be as big as Scott’s claim suggests.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Staff writer Yacob Reyes contributed to this report.