By some miracle, you have survived the disaster that has ushered in the apocalypse. Perhaps it was a nuclear war, asteroid strike, pandemic, or even zombies. Scarcely a month has gone by, and you are desperate for any kind of human contact. At last, you hear a knock on your door. You peer outside and see an official-looking government agent. Breathing a sigh of relief, you unbolt your door and fling it open, eager to learn what news your government brings you. Much to your dismay, you discover that your visitor is there for the sole purpose of making sure you pay your taxes on time.
If you think you have just read the plot to some horrible B-movie, think again. The Internal Revenue Service has a plan in place to make sure you don’t default on your taxes over something as trivial as the end of the world.
The threat of nuclear annihilation is not as severe as it was during the Cold War. Even so, the IRS modified its operating procedures in 1989 with a section called “National Emergency Operations.” This details how the agency would respond to something as devastating as a nuclear attack.
The “National Emergency Operations” informs all 75,000 IRS employees, from executives to janitors, that they could be reassigned as tax collectors in the event of an apocalypse. “In the event of a national emergency [especially resulting from nuclear attack], the primary function of the service is to support the Secretary of the Treasury,” notes the manual and spells out the expectation that the IRS will be back to assessing and collecting taxes within 30 days of a nuclear holocaust or other related interruption in services.
If this sounds heartless, take some comfort in the fact that the IRS does recognize that the end of the world can create some hardships. The manual directs, “On the premise that the collection of delinquent accounts would be most adversely affected, and in many cases would be impossible in a disaster area, the service will concentrate on the collection of current taxes.”
The IRS is not alone in making plans for the end of the world. The U.S. Postal Service, another government agency with a kindred spirit toward customer service and efficiency, has also been preparing for continuing services, even while humanity breathes its last. Its plan dates back to the 1950s and has been revised multiple times since. The plan includes instructions for checking the mail for radiation before delivery and handing out the long-stockpiled Form PS 809 — “Mail Forwarding Order – Emergency Change of Address.”
Curiously, the Postal Service has also prepared for a full-scale invasion by a hostile nation. Postal workers are instructed to collect and burn all unused postage stamps, to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Presumably, this will discourage the invasion plans of any philatelists. At the very least, we can rest secure in the knowledge that our nation has been conquered, but at least the pillaging invaders won’t be able to send free Christmas cards through the mail.
Congress asked the Postal Service to defend its emergency plans during hearings in 1982. Legislators questioned the value of such detailed planning, under the circumstances. The Congressional Record of the hearing provides some fascinating insight into the bureaucratic mindset of this planning:
Mr. [Jerry K.] Jones, General Manager Prevention & Planning Division, US Postal Inspection Service: We were assigned the responsibility, sir, of providing a mail delivery service for the United States. We really can’t take or consider those types of things too much into contention because they are subject to contention. We have tried to put together where, if something is left, whether it’s in the Everglades or wherever, we will be able to respond as part of our responsibilities under the Executive order.
Mr. MARKEY: My point only is if you do accept the FEMA plan, there is just not going to be that many people left to read or write letters after the nuclear bombs explode.
Mr. JUSELL: But those that are will get their mail.
Mr. MARKEY: I guess the question is how many mailmen are going to be left to deliver it?
Mr. JUSELL: Well, Mr. Markey, we are dealing with strict speculation here. We have a life preserver and we’re going to throw it out there Whether it floats or not or whether anybody is there to grab it, it’s anybody’s guess.
Mr. MARKEY: How many of your regional centers or bulk handling facilities are located in or near major cities?
Mr. JONES: They are all centered around major cities, sir.
Mr. MARKEY: They are all within the 400 areas that have been designated by FEMA as the most likely nuclear targets.
Mr. JONES: I would think so. Part of our plans there are to shift these wherever available to the concentration centers to areas of less likely.
Mr. MARKEY: Isn’t it likely that in the event of nuclear war that all of these postal centers will be completely eliminated?
Mr. JONES: Very possible.
Mr. MARKEY: And isn’t it likely that all of the people who run these postal centers will be killed?
Mr. JONES: It’s possible, sir.
Mr. MARKEY: Very likely then.
Mr. JONES: I can’t comment. I’m not an expert on it, obviously.
Mr. MARKEY: Well, the building was just destroyed.
Mr. JONES: Yes
Mr. MARKEY: So what you are doing is establishing this very elaborate chain of command with the very great likelihood that most of the people who are in this chain of command will be killed in an all-out nuclear war, leaving very little likelihood that they will be able to operate any kind of a national Postal Service at all except out of the most rural of postal offices. These would be the smallest of the small of all the facilities which you have right now, and somehow or other we are putting together plans that they are going to run a national mail service out of these remote rural areas. Is that correct?
Mr. JONES: In essence that’s correct, sir.
Mr. MARKEY: Does that sound realistic to you that in the most rural areas of America they are going to be coordinating the mail service for a country the size of the United States of America?
Hopefully, none of these plans will ever have to be tested. Of course, if they do, that’s when they will probably figure out that unless the Postal Service shares your emergency change of address information with the IRS, the tax collector in the hazmat suit will never know where to find you.
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