Tax Compliance and the Reformed IRS


The Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 directed the IRS to transform itself into an agency focused on "customers." What affect will such a focus on service have on compliance? This article analyzes not only the post-IRS reform statistics on enforced compliance but also considers the more important question of the likely impact of IRS friendliness on so-called "voluntary compliance."

Although some have suggested that a kinder IRS might prompt increased voluntary compliance, this article argues that it likely will not, based on the literature examining the impact on voluntary compliance of tax collector service to taxpayers and the use of a softer tone in correspondence with taxpayers. By contrast, the literature reflects the possibility that the perception of procedural fairness on the part of the IRS might increase compliance. This suggests that the IRS can benefit from treating taxpayers fairly but that it would be unwise for the IRS to focus on service at the expense of enforcement. (A related paper considers the interplay between norms and enforcement in tax compliance.)