Skip to main content

Rise of the Tax Machines: IRS Algorithms are Coming for You

The Hill

In this article, Robert Kovacev discusses new research that has cast a harsh spotlight on digital discrimination stemming from the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) use of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI), a key factor in disproportionate auditing of poor families and taxpayers of color. On February 15, the Senate questioned President Biden's nominee for IRS commissioner, Daniel Werfel, about how an IRS algorithm targeted Black taxpayers for audit up to 4.7 times as often as other races. Kovacev noted that amid controversy over billions of dollars in new IRS enforcement funding, Congress should recognize that letting computers decide whom to audit could destroy more lives than an army of newly hired IRS agents ever could. He concludes that it is not enough to rely on assurances that the IRS is monitoring its AI program. Congress must exercise its oversight to ensure that the IRS does not rely on biased algorithms in deciding which taxpayers to target. Further, Congress must force the IRS to be transparent about how it uses AI in making enforcement decisions so that taxpayers can defend themselves from being harmed by a rogue IRS algorithm. Otherwise, thousands of new human IRS agents may turn out to be the least of our worries.