IRS special agents lead accounting exercise

Group photo of WSU student participants at the IRS Citizens Academy.
WSU student participants at the IRS Citizens Academy.

It’s not often that students get the chance to arrest their instructors, but by the end of a five-hour exercise led by special agents with the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division earlier this semester, WSU accounting students had cuffed a handful of faculty.

The event, known as the IRS Citizens Academy and hosted by a dozen or so volunteers from IRS CI, is intended to showcase possible career pathways for accounting students within the agency’s enforcement arm.

During the exercise, students split into groups to conduct mock fraud investigations with their instructors standing in as the potential ne’er-do-wells at the center of each “case.” Several students in attendance agreed that even though these “arrests” were technically the result of mock investigations, the experience was beneficial.

“It was advertised as hands-on, but I didn’t realize how hands-on it was until we were, searching the room for ‘drugs’ and handcuffing people—I enjoyed it,” said accounting student Samantha Devries.

Unique career paths

Despite its low public profile and relatively small size compared with other federal law enforcement organizations like the FBI and DEA, agents with IRS CI have worked numerous high-profile cases throughout US history. Even after taking to task the likes of Al Capone, Bernie Madoff, and, more recently, Sam Bankman-Fried, the agency boasts an institutional conviction rate of 90%.

While it is common for students to hear about opportunities in private and public accounting, organizers noted it’s relatively rare for them to be aware of employment options within federal law enforcement—particularly with IRS CI. However, agents at the event stressed that those looking for a job with the IRS should have some accounting experience.

“They can have other degrees, but they have to have some accounting credits or related work experience,” said Carrie Nordyke, assistant special agent in charge for IRS CI’s Seattle field office. “We follow the money linked to criminal activity and we want new employees to have some understanding of how that works.”

Increased funding sparks recruitment drive

With one large group of veterans that have been with the agency for 20 or more years preparing to retire, the IRS is pushing to shore up its ranks while it has the funding to do so, Nordyke says. This is in addition to filling out existing staffing shortages.

The current hiring push is due in part to an $80 billion injection awarded by Congress as part of 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act. Nordyke says this means there are employment opportunities throughout the agency, not just with IRS CI.

“Everyone thinks of auditors when they think of the IRS, but there are so many more opportunities depending on what people are looking for,” Nordyke said. “There are the auditors, there’s our collections side, which is on the civil side, and then there’s us and there’s a lot of different business units.”

Students in attendance found the exercise impressive; a few say they are considering seeking a job with the IRS.

“Everybody who was presenting just seemed to have a lot of knowledge about federal law enforcement, especially how IRS CI works,” said student Ian Mickelson. “It’s definitely something that might show up on my radar later. If I were a first year or sophomore here at WSU and I came through this seminar, I’d definitely want to consider a job with the IRS.”

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