IRS to spend less time auditing big US companies in 2013 -report

WASHINGTON, April 9 Tue Apr 9, 2013 4:27pm EDT

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. tax collectors plan to put 18 percent less staff time into scrutinizing the books of the biggest U.S. companies this year compared with the last two years, say internal documents obtained by a non-partisan watchdog group.

The Internal Revenue Service data apply to businesses with assets above $10 million for the 2013 fiscal year ending September 30, according to an IRS plan that the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released on Tuesday.

Less IRS time analyzing corporate accounts could mean greater tax evasion, the watchdog said.

The research group based at Syracuse University in New York State obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request that the IRS fought in court and lost.

IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said that large corporate audits are still high by historical standards, noting that 17 percent of such companies faced tax audits in fiscal year 2012. But he said the agency was constrained by tight fiscal times.

The number of fulltime IRS employees fell by almost 7,000 between the end of 2010 and 2012 while its budget is down about $1 billion, or 8 percent, since 2010.

"The IRS will remain focused on this area in 2013 during a challenging budget period," Burke said.

The new audit figures do not take into account the sequester - the automatic across-the-board spending cuts to many federal programs that went into effect last month.

"The fact that audits are down potentially means less compliance, which is going to produce very difficult choices in the year ahead," said David Burnham, the co-director at TRAC.

According to the document, the agency plans to spend 27 percent less staff time on auditing the biggest publicly traded companies this year, compared with two years ago, and 17 percent less in auditing partnerships which include law firms and private equity firms.

FEDERAL TAX ENFORCEMENT

Separately, the Justice Department's tax division touted its 95 percent win rate in civil and criminal tax cases, timed with the April 15 filing deadline for 2012 taxes.

The division, which prosecutes tax matters in concert with the IRS, did not give a year-ago comparison figure.

Among the most high profile of the big cases the government is pursuing are offshore tax evasion cases.

Since a 2009 landmark case against Swiss banking giant UBS AG, the government has been pursuing banks, bankers and U.S. citizens stashing income abroad in Israel, India and beyond.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General for tax Kathryn Keneally said the agency was aggressively moving into new countries but she would only say "all," when asked to be specific.

"If anyone is waiting for a news announcement, that they are finally onto my country, by that time will be too late," Keneally said.

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