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The Janesville Republican was joined Nov. 17, 2015 by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, who made a claim -- comparing the number of Internal Revenue Service agents to the number of people "countering violent extremism" in America -- that we want to check.
"This administration needs to step up," said McSally, an Arizona Republican. "We do not have a strategy. We do not have a focus. There are over 200,000 social media tweets and posts per day by ISIS, in a very sophisticated social media campaign. They are acting at the speed of broadband while we are acting at the speed of bureaucracy."
"We have 10,000 IRS agents making sure that you don't take an improper charity deduction and less than two dozen people focusing on countering violent extremism at home. It’s time for this administration to step up its game, take this seriously. It is a generational conflict and we must lead now more than ever."
McSally greatly understated what the IRS’ 10,000 revenue agents do.
And to conclude there are only two dozen people who focus on countering violent extremism in the country, she defined that group very narrowly.
Let’s take a closer look.
Checking charitable deductions
On the IRS part of McSally’s statement, her office asked the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service how many revenue agents the IRS has, according to emails forwarded to us by her staff. The IRS told the research service there were 10,840.
A revenue agent, the research service told McSally, "typically is an accountant who audits and examines the tax returns of individuals, businesses, and tax-exempt entities to determine whether they are meeting their tax obligations."
In other words, the work of the 10,000 IRS agents is much broader than merely checking whether a taxpayer improperly claimed a tax deduction for making a charitable donation.
It’s also not necessarily surprising the number is as high as it is, given that millions of people and entities file federal income taxes. And only a federal agency, not state or local authorities, would be involved in auditing federal returns.
That’s in contrast to the approach taken in countering violent extremism.
Countering violent extremism
Now for the second part of McSally’s claim -- that there are fewer than two dozen people "focusing on countering violent extremism" in America, which isn’t exactly the same as fighting terrorism.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, citing a White House strategy document on countering violent extremism, says violent extremists are "individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals."
So, countering violent extremism is an effort to prevent such violence.
We asked for more clarification from Amy Pate, research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. She said: Think of a 20-year-old, marginalized, radicalized American who one day shows up at the airport with a ticket to fly to Turkey and join ISIS.
Countering violent extremism is aimed at preventing that sort of thing from occurring. It’s done through a variety of outreach and education programs, social media and other efforts, aiming to get down to the local and even the individual level -- such as showing parents how to spot whether a son or daughter might be becoming radicalized.
"The more local it is, the more successful it’s going to be," Pate told us.
Indeed, the White House strategy document, issued in 2011, outlines how the federal government will "support and help empower American communities and their local partners in their grassroots efforts to prevent violent extremism."
The White House also said, in February 2015, that "communities provide the solution to violent extremism; and CVE efforts are best pursued at the local level, tailored to local dynamics, where local officials continue to build relationships within their communities through established community policing and community outreach mechanisms. The federal government’s most effective role in strengthening community partnerships and preventing violent extremism is as a facilitator, convener, and source of research and findings."
In other words, unlike auditing federal tax returns, which is done at the federal level, countering violent extremism has a federal component but is designed to be an effort that is spread out throughout the country.
To back McSally’s statement on the two dozen federal workers, her office cited a statement made at a July 2015 congressional hearing by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said:
"Our committee asked the top agencies responsible for (countering violent extremism) how much money and how many people they have assigned to the problem. They could only identify around $15 million being spent and around two dozen people working full-time to combating domestic radicalization. That’s it."
The four primary federal entities for countering violent extremism are the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, the FBI and the National Counter-Terrorism Center.
But McSally and McCaul are counting only the number of full-time federal employees in those agencies whose work is dedicated solely to countering violent extremism.
Pate told us that ignores the many other employees from the four entities that spend least part of their time on countering violent extremism -- as well as countless other people across the country, including local law enforcement, community groups and individuals.
McSally said the U.S. has "10,000 IRS agents making sure that you don't take an improper charity deduction," but to fight terrorism, it has "less than two dozen people focusing on countering violent extremism at home."
There are 10,000 IRS revenue agents who examine and audit tax returns -- a much broader scope of work than merely checking for an improper deduction.
And there’s an indication that as of mid-2015, strictly speaking, perhaps two dozen federal employees were focused solely on countering violent extremism. But that effort involves more federal employees who do at least some work on countering violent extremism, as well as people in local communities across the country who are involved.
We rate McSally’s statement Mostly False.
More on homeland security
Rand Paul in Milwaukee: 40 percent of illegal immigrants "had a visa and then became illegal," mostly because "they changed jobs." Half True.
Ron Johnson: Some 8.1 million of the estimated 11 million to 12 million people "in this country illegally are working." Mostly True.
C-SPAN, video of news conference (quote at 8:00), Nov. 17, 2015
Interview, Rep. Martha McSally communications director Patrick Ptak, Nov. 19, 2015
Email string, Rep. Martha McSally, Internal Revenue Service, Congressional Research Service, November 2015
Department of Homeland Security, "Countering violent extremism," Oct. 14, 2015
Interview, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism research director Amy Pate, Nov. 20, 2015
Rep. Michael McCaul, statement to Homeland Security Committee, July 15, 2015
The White House, fact sheet, Feb. 18, 2015
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