IRS needs Congress’ help to restore cyber funds

IRS commissioner John Koskinen is calling on the Senate Finance Committee to make sure the agency is part of the discussion to get more funding for cybersecurity as part of the fiscal 2016 budget negotiations.

In an Oct. 7 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the finance committee, Koskinen said the agency needs more than the $281 million proposed in next year’s budget plan to combat growing cyber-related concerns.

John Koskinen
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen

“Our ability to address the risks posed by cyber attacks, while continuing to expand our services to taxpayers, will require new investments in authentication, monitoring and other cybersecurity technologies,” Koskinen said. “Our IT budget has actually decreased in recent years, despite the fact we maintain sensitive data on hundreds of millions of American taxpayers.”

The letter comes as a response to Wyden’s inquiry in September, asking if the IRS should be involved in congressional appropriations that are targeted at cybersecurity improvements for the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Personnel Management.

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Koskinen said inclusion in the budget talks are a necessity, since cuts have diverted funds away from operations other than IT.

Among the initiatives Koskinen mentioned was its enforcement program, which combats tax evasion and fraud. He said enforcement staffing levels have “been difficult to maintain” since funding levels have decreased by $600 million — more than 18 percent with inflation — since 2010.

Koskinen said the IRS could have collected another $6 billion last year and $8 billion this year had they been able to maintain 2010 staffing levels for its enforcement programs.

“As a result, total enforcement staffing has fallen by more than 10,000 or almost 20 percent,” the letter stated. “In FY 2014, we conducted 339,000 fewer individual examinations than FY 2012, and 560,000 fewer information matching cases.”

Koskinen said overall budget cuts to the IRS total $1.2 billion since 2010, which puts the agency on funding levels equal to those of 1998.

“The combined pressures of reduced resources, new demands and cyber threats have undermined our ability to deliver foundational taxpayer service and enforcement programs that are the twin pillars of our system of voluntary compliance,” he said. “With proper funding, we can meet the challenges described … and continue to provide the services and protections that honest taxpayers deserve.”

Koskinen’s response to Wyden’s letter comes as requests for upping DHS and OPM’s IT budget in the wake of a multitude of cyber attacks in 2015. More than 21.5 million former and current federal employees and contractors had personal information stolen or mpromised when hackers accessed OPM’s  databases in June.

Wyden’s letter highlighted the IRS’s importance when it comes to protecting taxpayer information because of its size and scope.

“I do not know any member of Congress who would respond to an attack on the nation by cutting resources to the agencies or persons who were the targets of the attack,” Wyden stated in his September letter. “Shouldn’t the resources made available to the IRS be similarly increased in response to cyber threats?”

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