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Historically, the IRS has wielded formidable power, and that power isn’t likely to diminish anytime soon. The organization performs many vital services, but at times, it has been accused of being more of a disservice, especially when blamed for abusive audits and collection tactics.

In May 2013, the IRS targeted for audits about 75 conservative political organizations whose paperwork included the terms “Tea Party” and “Patriot.” Democrats and Republicans alike condemned this.

But those kinds of charges were nothing new. Several presidential administrations, including those of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, have been accused of using the IRS to target political rivals. Kennedy had the organization audit steel industry execs who wouldn’t comply with his price control policies. Nixon made a list of more than 10,000 groups and individuals he considered subversive, and had the IRS go after them. More examples abound.

Sometimes IRS audits are routine and uneventful; other times they can be devastating, both financially and emotionally. Occasionally, overzealous IRS agents bully people, even barging into their homes and demanding payment. The IRS tried to reform in the 1990s, but no real change to its power resulted.

While there have been various methods suggested to revise the U.S’s ways of taxing citizens, all agree that the IRS needs better systems to restrain its ability to target individuals, and to increase its transparency.

Taxpayers can protect themselves by keeping detailed records to back up each deduction and credit they take. Those who choose to fight the IRS over their tax bill can negotiate a settlement, or contact the Office of Appeals and tax courts.

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