Here’s a resource: For useful and easy to understand information about the impact of cuts to the IRS, go to a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice, or CTJ, titled “Do The Math: Sequester Cuts to IRS Increase the Deficit.” CTJ, which focuses on how the tax system favors the wealthy and politically connected, has an impeccable reputation for precision and reliability in its calculations.

Its new report begins with this sourced observation:

Let’s start with the facts. Every dollar invested in the IRS’s enforcement, modernization and management system reduces the federal budget deficit by $200. Here’s another metric. Every dollar the IRS “spends for audits, liens and seizing property from tax cheats” garners ten dollars back. Can you say “return on investment?”

A bit of this kind of information and background would help readers connect the dots in sequester and deficit stories. For example, a Monday piece in The Washington Post, about the rising cost of disaster relief, which notes that such spending is deficit spending. A line on the IRS cuts wouldn’t have hurt.

Or a Sunday Detroit Free Press story about a nonprofit credit union that is making “furlough loans” to government employees affected by the sequester—51 such loans so far, through Wednesday. The piece made a passing mention of the plan to furlough all IRS employees for five or more days this year, but not of how that furlough (and other IRS cuts) affects the federal budget deficit. Perhaps an opportunity missed.

Here some numbers for journalists to keep in mind:

* IRS revenue officers, otherwise known as tax collectors, earn an average salary of $50,485, while bringing in $2.5 million each per year.

* IRS auditors who examine individual tax returns, earn on average $75,577, and on average annually find more than $1 million of taxes due.

* IRS auditors working on the biggest corporations, who make nearly $150,000, identify on average $19 million in extra taxes per year. That’s $126 for each dollar of pay, an extraordinary return for the cost.

Where are the Page One stories about government returns on investment that would make Wall Street drool?


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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.