OldVet – A Conversation Starter on the IRS

This one is by Reader OldVet…


I have over 10 years experience in each of two thankless and often maligned organizations: the US Foreign Service and the IRS.

The first was a popular and sought after job despite stressful living conditions, frequent overseas transfers, divorce rates, and from time to time personal danger or disease. Nevertheless, there were (in the 1970’s) and still are today about 100 applicants for every job opening every year. It’s considered a job for the “best and the brightest” who have a strong belief in public service despite the slurs against “cookie pushers.” Mr. Kissinger spoke at my class orientation before our first assignments, and said that diplomacy was defined best as the simple words of an honest man. The Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980’s told his staff that “Service in this country requires an extra measure of patriotism.” It may have just been a more hopeful time, but we all believed him.

People seem to hate the IRS in a generalized way. Sometimes I’ve heard first or secondhand stories of tough treatment of individuals, “cruel” liens on property, the terrible “ordeal” of an audit, and the discouragement of investment and small business through excessive record keeping requirements. Television ads by law firms offering to “save you” from the IRS are frequent. Jobs with the IRS often go unfilled and are not considered “high quality” jobs for any but the most ambitious accountants, lawyers, or economists who hope to vault into high paying private jobs after a few years. It’s an enforcement organization that, through the strangest philosophical twist by otherwise law-and-order politicians, has been re-styled publicly as a “customer service” organization.

Personally, looking back, my informed opinion of the people who work as career employees of both organizations is that they were and continue to be bright, dedicated, honest people. The only difference was that the Foreign Service job was sometimes fun, while the IRS was ultimately more useful to the public. The lawmakers who make foreign policy and tax laws and appoint the political management of these organizations never seem to take the same “hit” as career employees, strangely enough. I’ve heard perfectly sincere people of all political persuasions declare that “We ought to abolish the IRS and start over.”


(1) Do you think taxes will collect themselves? Or will your Grandma have to hop up out of her nursing home wheelchair and chase down her own taxes to pay for her Social Security check and Medicare?

(2) Would you like to make taxes go away by making the IRS go away? Can you kill the bearer of bad news and make the news better?

(3) Why, or why not, have public servants and not simply contract everything to mercenaries?


This one was by reader OldVet. To our readers that are Bush supporters, I would amend OldVet’s first question as follows:

(1) Do you think taxes will collect themselves? Or will your Armed Forces have to hop up out of their Bradleys in Iraq and chase down their own taxes to pay for their Defense Budget and Supplementals?