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Criminal investigations: numbers trending down this year

Many tax proposals are in play as President-elect Donald Trump and his administration prepare to take office.

One of those proposals is not about specific tax provisions, but about the structure of the agency itself. The proposal is to split off the criminal enforcement division from the IRS and place it elsewhere within the Treasury Department.

What do the data say about the current performance of the Criminal Investigation (CI) division?

The numbers say that the number of prosecutions initiated is trending down. In Fiscal Year 2014, the CI opened nearly 4,300 investigations. That fell to just over 3,500 in FY 2015 and just number 3,400 in FY 2016.

In other words, in a two-year period, the number of investigations that the CI initiated dropped by about 900.

Not surprisingly, the number of cases recommended for prosecution also dropped. It fell from 3,478 in FY 2014 to 3,289 in FY 2015 and 2,744 in FY 2016.

On one level, the decline in the number of investigations is hardly a surprise. For years, the IRS has struggled with substantial budget cuts imposed by Congress.

These cuts have seriously affected the IRS's ability to provide satisfactory customer service, especially during filing season. But the IRS has long sought to make criminal investigations a priority. At some point, however, doing more with less every year becomes more and more difficult.

To be sure, the IRS is still a formidable enforcement agency. After the new administration takes office, we will find out whether enforcement will be taken off of the IRS's plate and placed with another agency.

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