(Updated) For a national conference of employment lawyers, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion of “Strategic Thinking in Whistleblower Cases” and to explain the new IRS Whistleblower Program.
Because our whistleblower lawyer blog (https://www.whistleblowerlawyerblog.com/irs_rewards_program_tax/) has followed closely the development of the new IRS Whistleblower Program since Congress authorized it in December 2006, I will summarize here some of the key points about the IRS Whistleblower Program, which is still taking shape. By experimenting and using this “blog” as an old-fashioned seminar paper–with the interactive features of the web–the National Employment Lawyers Association lawyers (and others) may be able to “link to” other pertinent topics on the web, such as the various IRS materials discussed here.
Until December 2006, the Internal Revenue Service had no effective program to encourage whistleblowers to report tax fraud and tax violations. Rewards to “IRS Whistleblowers” were rare, slow, discretionary, and small–and typically could not exceed 15 percent of the amount recovered by the IRS. As a result, the “old” program was ineffective–even though the IRS historically has made good use of information from informants.
The new IRS Whistleblower Program provides the first meaningful rewards to whistleblowers who report substantial tax violations when at least $2 million is owed to the IRS. The amended IRS Whistleblower statute, 26 U.S.C. § 7623, doubles the rewards available to 15-30% of the government’s recovery, and for the first time creates an enforceable right for the whistleblower to receive a reward. Not only taxes, but also interest and penalties, count in calculating the whistleblower’s reward.
Many challenges nonetheless remain in representing IRS Whistleblowers. Perhaps the greatest is convincing an overburdened IRS that your client’s case is worth the investment of its limited resources. The IRS already has many other cases awaiting investigation, and would-be whistleblowers continually add to that “pile” by submitting hundreds of other potential cases.
The new IRS Whistleblower rewards were inspired by another whistleblower statute, the federal False Claims Act. The successes of the False Claims Act over the past two decades convinced Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and others in Congress that meaningful whistleblower rewards are an effective tool for the government to recover public dollars obtained by fraud. Since the False Claims Act was amended in 1986 to increase the size of rewards and otherwise encourage “qui tam” lawsuits that expose fraud against the government, the federal government’s fraud recoveries have grown dramatically–from less than $100 million in 1987, to more than $3 billion in 2006.
Tax violations, however, fall outside the False Claims Act, which expressly “does not apply to claims, records, or statements made under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.” 31 U.S.C. § 3729(e). As a result, there was no meaningful incentive for tax whistleblowers to come forward to the IRS before December 2006.
With a “tax gap” of more than $200 billion in estimated unpaid taxes each year, the old IRS program brought in less than $100 million annually–even though information from “insiders” historically has been quite productive for the IRS. In fact, the June 2006 Report of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) noted that, based on past experience,”examinations initiated based on informant information were often more efficient and effective.” (See June 2006 Report of Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration–which predated Congress’ creation of the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program, entitled “The Informants Rewards Program Needs More Centralized Management Oversight,” No. 2006-30-092. (
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