At a time when higher taxes or deeper government spending cuts seem to be the only options available to close the gaping federal deficit, going after more $400 billion a year in uncollected taxes should be a no-brainer.
But in the nation's capital, the so-called "tax gap" hardly rates a mention in the official discussion of America's fiscal woes.
In government parlance, the "tax gap" is the difference between the taxes owed and what's actually paid on time. In their most recent analysis, from 2001, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that only about 84 percent of federal taxes were voluntarily paid on time that year, leaving a gross tax gap of $345 billion, or roughly 16 percent, uncollected.
Late payments and IRS collection efforts brought in another $50 billion, which cut the net tax gap to $290 billion in 2001. But similar estimates point to a gross tax gap of $410 billion to $500 billion in 2010, said Benjamin Harris, a research economist at the Brookings Institution, a center-left research group.
"You could go a long way toward solving our budget mess by closing the tax gap, but the problem is, it's not easily closed," Harris said.