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Scholz and Wood: Controlling the IRS

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Scholz and Wood. 1988. Controlling the IRS: Principals, principles, and public administration. AJPS.

In Brief

Most studies of bureaucratic responsiveness assume that democracy requires political control of bureaucrats. But think again: Given that we question the extent of the public's control of politicians, why would we want perfect bureaucratic resopnsiveness? After all, we have a Constitutional system of checks and balances because we don't fully trust our politicians. Democracy, then, requires more than responsiveness; it also requires equity and efficiency.

Concerning the IRS, pure responsiveness might be a dangerous path to selective enforcement, politically-motivated audits (think of Nixon), and so on. Ideally, then, the IRS's decision of how to allocate auditing resources should correlate not only with political variables, but also with indicators of equity and efficiency.

In principle, Democrats might want the IRS to audit corporate returns more heavily, while Republicans might back off auditing the corporate returns. Thus, by examining the ratio of corporate to individual audits from 1974-92, the authors show that this ratio responds not only to national political control, but also to principles of equity and efficiency.

Operationalization and Findings

Y: IRS Audits

X1: Responsiveness

National Level
State Level

X2: Equity

X3: Efficiency

X2 and X3: Equity and Efficiency: Additional effects

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Scholz, John (author)Wood, Dan (author)American PoliticsBureaucracyResponsivenessCongress (U.S.)

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