In a letter dated November 17, 1789, Benjamin Franklin told his friend Jean-Baptiste Leroy that the United States had adopted a constitution, one Franklin had high hopes for. One quote written by the American statesman to his French pen pal has survived time: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Franklin was more correct than he knows.
Just ask the IRS. For them, taxes are a business, and death is something which simply requires a contingency plan.
The IRS has an employee handbook called the Internal Revenue Manual. The Manual, which is published online here, is incredibly detailed, including instructions as to how to properly tax the President and Vice President of the United States (as if every single IRS employee needed to be advised of the proper procedure), the proper procedure for booking off-site meetings, and whatever the heck this is. And as of 1989 — two hundred years after Franklin’s letter — is has contained an action plan: what to do in case of thermonuclear war.
That year, after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggested it, the IRS created a section of the Manual called “National Emergency Operations.” That section mandated that, 30 days after a nuclear strike, the IRS would regroup and start, again, to collect taxes. It would do so even if it meant a total overhaul of the corporate hierarchy; the plan specifically noted that employees could be reassigned, without regard for rank or seniority, into any job essential to the collection of taxes. The good news? According to the New York Times, if you are delinquent in paying your taxes, the IRS’ new action plan assumed that yours would be more difficult to collect, so they’d ignore you in favor of current taxes.
But if you owe back taxes, do not wait around for a nuclear strike. The “in case of nuke” section has been revised and expanded over the years. It is now called “Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief,” and includes plans for everything from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. It runs dozens of pages long, but no longer prioritizes currently due taxes over those delinquent ones.
From the Archives: Tax Refund: Sometimes, the IRS loses. Well, at least the IRS’s German equivalent.
Related: “Taxes Made Simple: Income Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less” by Mike Piper. Five stars and available on Kindle, but the title should read “100 Pages or Fewer,” not “100 Pages or Less.”