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PolitiFact VA: Rep. Ben Cline overstates how large the IRS could grow after Inflation Reduction Act

Ben Cline speaks in Washington
Greg Nash/AP
Pool The Hill
Rep. Ben Cline speaks on Capitol Hill in 2020. The Republican recently restated a party talking point about how an infusion of money would grow the IRS. (File photo: Greg Nash/For The Associated Press)

Speaker: Rep. Ben Cline
Statement: A new Democratic law “will make the IRS workforce larger than the Pentagon, FBI, State Department, and Customs and Border Patrol, combined.”
Date: Aug. 12
Setting: Written statement

Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) says a recent law signed by President Joe Biden will trigger runaway growth of the Internal Revenue Service.

“This will make the IRS workforce larger than the Pentagon, FBI, State Department, and Customs and Border Patrol, combined,” he wrote in an Aug. 12 statement.

Cline was echoing a faulty Republican talking point about the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a sweeping environmental and health-care bill passed by Democrats earlier this month. The reforms will be largely paid for by increasing taxes on individuals and corporations earning more than $400,000 a year, and by expanding the IRS to crack down on unpaid taxes by wealthy filers.

The IRS size comparison — Cline’s office and other Republicanssaid — comes from an Aug. 6 report from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative political news website.

"If Democrats have their way, one of the most detested federal agencies — the Internal Revenue Service — will employ more bureaucrats than the Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and Border Patrol combined," the article said. "That would make the IRS one of the largest federal agencies."

There’s no question the infusion of funds made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act will enlarge the IRS, which has experienced years of funding cuts and workforce losses. But a review of the best figures immediately available found Cline overstated just how large the IRS staff would grow compared to other agencies. 

Among the Republicans who made this flawed comparison is state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), who is running for the Second District congressional seat held by Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat.  

Misleading numbers

Cline’s comparison is based on his faulty premise that the law will provide $80 billion to “double the size of the IRS, adding an army of 87,000 new enforcement agents.”

PolitiFact has repeatedly debunked similar statements. The $80 billion will pay for upgrading technology at the agency, as well as incrementally hiring new employees during the next 10 years.

The 87,000 hiring figure is not set in stone; it’s based on a 2021 estimate by the Treasury Department. The Treasury said it will be several months before it comes up with a final spending plan. 

Cline’s statement is also misleading because not all of the new IRS employees will work in tax enforcement; many will work in IT, others in customer service. And not all of them will be new employees added to the overall workforce. Many of the hires will replace an estimated 50,000 IRS workers who are expected to retire or leave for other reasons during the next six years. 

The IRS now has about 79,000 full time staffers. The Washington Post has reported the staff will grow by about 30% during the next decade.

Cline’s agency counts don’t add up

To fairly compare the workforces mentioned by Cline against IRS growth, we searched for each agency’s "full-time equivalent" positions. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI list this information in their congressional budget requests. 

Cline also included the Pentagon and the State Department in his list. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the Defense Department, but we were unable to immediately locate its employment figures in terms of FTEs. The State Department lists employment positions by bureau and agency, and we did not find a departmentwide FTE figure.  

Comparing a department like the IRS with a group of agencies, departments and offices is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. But we used the numbers that were available to assess the claim’s accuracy as best as possible. 

Here’s a breakdown of each organization's workforce using available figures:

• In 2022, Customs and Border Protection received funding for 58,475 full-time equivalent positions. 

• The FBI in 2022 received funding for 36,172 full-time equivalent positions.

• The Defense Department has 785,200 civilian full-time equivalent positions. The Pentagon employs 27,000 of those positions.

• The State Department counts 77,227 employees overall (but it’s not clear whether those are full-time equivalent positions). 

• The workforce of the Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and Customs and Border Protection combined is nearly 199,000. That’s about 34,000 more positions than the IRS would have if it added 87,000 new employees at once and none of its current 78,000 employees left, which is not what is planned.

Our ruling

Cline claimed that with the addition of 87,000 new agents, the IRS will be "larger than  the Pentagon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Customs and Border Protection and the State Department combined."

The Inflation Reduction Act will provide funding that will allow the IRS to strengthen its workforce significantly, but just how that will play out is not set in stone. The best figures available strongly suggest the agency will not become as big as Cline has said.

We rate Cline’s statement Mostly False.

Maria Ramirez Uribe, of PolitiFact National, and Sara Swann, a freelance journalist, contributed to this story.


Rep. Ben Cline, written statement, Aug. 12, 2022

PolitiFact National, “ Rick Scott overstates potential hiring surge at the IRS,” Aug. 17, 2022

Email from Charlotte Law, Cline’s communications director, Aug. 18, 2022

The Washington Free Beacon, “ Dems Poised To Make IRS Larger Than Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and Border Patrol Combined,” Aug. 6, 2022

The Washington Post, “ Hyperbolic GOP claims about IRS agents and audits,” Aug. 11, 2022

Jen Kiggans, tweet, Aug. 15, 2022