When Congress authorized $80 billion this year to beef up Internal Revenue Service enforcement and staffing, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy invoked the language of war to warn that “Democrats’ new army of 87,000 IRS agents will be coming for you.”
A video quickly went viral racking up millions of views, purporting to show a bunch of clumsy bureaucrats receiving firearms training, prompting alarm that the IRS would be engaged in military-style raids of ordinary taxpayers. The GOP claims were widely attacked as exaggerations – since the video, though from the IRS, didn’t show official agent training – but the criticism has shed light on a growing trend: the rapid arming of the federal government.
A report issued last year by the watchdog group Open The Books, “The Militarization of The U.S. Executive Agencies,” found that more than 200,000 federal bureaucrats now have been granted the authority to carry guns and make arrests – more than the 186,000 Americans serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “One hundred three executive agencies outside of the Department of Defense spent $2.7 billion on guns, ammunition, and military-style equipment between fiscal years 2006 and 2019 (inflation adjusted),” notes the report. “Nearly $1 billion ($944.9 million) was spent between fiscal years 2015 and 2019 alone.”
The watchdog reports that the Department of Health and Human Services has 1,300 guns including one shotgun, five submachine guns, and 189 automatic firearms. NASA has its own fully outfitted SWAT team, with all the attendant weaponry, including armored vehicles, submachine guns, and breeching shotguns. The Environmental Protection Agency has purchased drones, GPS trackers, radar equipment, and night vision goggles, in addition to stockpiling firearms.
A 2018 Government Accountability Office report noted that the IRS had 4,487 guns and 5,062,006 rounds of ammunition in inventory at the end of 2017 – before the enforcement funding boost this year. The IRS did not respond to requests for information, though the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division does put out an annual report detailing basic information such as how many warrants the agency is executing in a given year.
Yet more than a hundred executive agencies have armed investigators, and there doesn’t appear to be any independent authority actively monitoring or tracking the use of force across the federal government.
When asked about the need for such lethal materiel, agency officials typically speak only in general terms about security concerns. Agencies contacted by RealClearInvestigations from HHS to EPA declined to provide, or said they did not have, comprehensive statistics on how often their firearms are used, or details on how they conduct armed operations.
“I would be amazed if that data exists in any way,” said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow in constitutional and criminal law at the libertarian CATO Institute. “Over the years of working on this, it’s quite shocking how much they try to not have their stuff tracked on any level.”
— Mark Hemingway, RealClearInvestigations in Armed and Beltway-ish: More Federal Bureaucrats Than U.S. Marines Are Authorized To Pack Heat