Columns

Senator: IRS Losing $458 Billion a Year but Not Trying to Collect It

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has identified areas of “wasteful and inefficient” spending across the federal government in his latest “Federal Fumbles” report in a bid to prevent future increases to the growing national debt.

“Starting in 2016, the deficit started increasing again and it increased again for 2016 to 2017. We have to pay attention to debt and deficit. It needs to be part of our ongoing conversation,” Lankford said during a Monday press conference on Capitol Hill.

“If we’re going to deal with the deficit, we have to be able to address it. We have to think about it. We have to talk about it and we have to find ways to be able to solve it,” he added. “There are things we need to spend money on, but there are also some things we don’t need to spend money on.”

Lankford said conservatives “cannot ignore the debt and deficit” when it comes to tax reform.

“As conservatives, we’ve said for a long time if we are ever going to get ahead of the deficit we have to control our spending and we have to have a growing and healthy economy. Well, if we use all of the tax reductions to just offset, we’re never getting on top of the debt and deficit,” he said, referring to the FY2017 $666 billion deficit and $20 trillion national debt.

As the tax reform debate continues, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) topped Lankford’s list of federal fumbles with its failure to properly use its auditing procedures to catch fraud or mistakes on tax returns.

“The IRS has a program to improve tax return auditing procedures but does not fully utilize it. IRS’ most recent analysis estimates that $458 billion a year is lost due to incorrect or fraudulently filed returns,” read Lankford’s report, which was released on Monday.

Lankford said the IRS has “identified about $458 billion but they are not actually acting on it to be able to collect the taxes that are owed.”

The senator criticized the Department of Transportation for spending $1 billion on a 10-mile expansion of the trolley line located in San Diego.

According to the “Federal Fumbles” report, “Last year, DOT gave $1.04 billion to expand the San Diego trolley line by 10 miles (so just under $100 million a mile). Money could have paid for 100 to a 250-milelong four-lane highway.”

Lankford said San Diego taxpayers should have funded that project.

“I look at it from the perspective of coming from Oklahoma. Currently, there’s a streetcar being installed in Oklahoma City. The people of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City are paying for the streetcar in Oklahoma City and all the construction work and all of the details around it. The only federal expense of that was initial environmental study required by the federal government, “ Lankford said at the press conference. “The rest of it is being paid for by the people of that community. I’m a little confused why there’s a billion [federal] dollars being spent for a local transportation project to be able to extend that out.”

Lankford explained that some retailers providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are not “connecting the dots” to identify deceased individuals, which has wasted more than $2 billion.

According to his report, a 21-month review of SNAP transactions “found $2.6 billion in transactions by retailers who were ineligible to utilize the program because either the information on the retailer’s application belonged to a deceased person or minor.”

Lankford also said that federal agencies should be able to send customer service surveys to taxpayers for feedback on the performance of their employees.

“Right now, agencies can’t do what every business in America does – an online survey for ‘how did we treat you in customer service’? Just send out some basic questions to be able to send back. The reason for that? The Paperwork Reduction Act, actually,” he said. “These agencies can’t do it because they have to follow the process of the Paperwork Reduction Act. It takes so many months to be able to get through the process of doing it so they just don’t do it at all. We’re trying to be able to fix that.”

He continued, “If agencies are ever going to get better at customer service and taking care of people, they have to be able to get feedback. It’s not wasted dollars. It’s lot of wasted effort though. It’s a way that we are fumbling the ball in being able to just take care of people.”