IRS Employees Only Semi-Literate, Finds Audit


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn't do English good, according to a Treasury inspector general audit. The Hill reports that, although the IRS sometimes speaks and writes comprehensibly, it still falls far short of expectations:

The watchdog…said that half the letters and two-thirds of the notices it examined either weren't written clearly or didn't give enough information.

Mind you, that's only for extant correspondence. It turns out internal emails aren't the only forms of correspondence lost in the rabbit hole of IRS hard drives:

The inspector general also found that the IRS doesn't have a full list of all the letters and messages it sends to taxpayers, making it difficult to know how clearly the agency is communicating.

The syntactically challenged employees are also, incidentally, in violation of federal law. The Plain Writing Act (yes, that exists) mandates that federal workers write coherently. The act requires a senior official within an agency to, among other things, "train employees of the agency in plain writing" and submit annual compliance reports—also, presumably, in plain writing.

For an agency that expects taxpayers to follow the exact letter of a byzantine code whose complexity costs Americans hundreds of billions of dollars to comply with, the IRS seems fairly blasé about the literacy of its own gendarmes. Without a hint of irony, the agency blames its coherency problems on the difficulty of keeping track of its extensive correspondence:

Agency officials say they have tried to inventory all the messages they send out, but that the sheer number makes that difficult. The IRS office that corresponds with taxpayers also has 44 separate systems it uses to craft letters or notices to taxpayers.

But never fear. At the agency that to date has spent roughly $18 million to find lost communications and create a system for storing emails, progress soldiers on:

The inspector general did say that the IRS had made strides in some areas to comply with the Plain Writing Act, including by increasing training for staffers and corresponding differently with taxpayers and tax professionals. 

If the government insists on scrounging every last penny from American taxpayers, the least it can do is let us know in clear, concise English beforehand.