In Case of [Asteroid] Emergency…the IRS Will Still Be Here


On February 22, 2012, a telescope in Spain discovered an asteroid, 150 feet across, in an orbit that would bring it uncomfortably close to earth. Astronomers reassured us that we would be safe – this time – but that it was "a wakeup call for the importance of defending the Earth from future asteroid impacts." Last month, that asteroid, named 2012 DA14, passed within 17,200 miles of earth at a speed of nearly 17,500 miles per hour. That's a hairsbreath in cosmological terms – it actually flew under the ring of communications satellites orbiting earth before it headed safely back out into space.

2012 DA14 obviously didn’t hit Earth, but our planet does get beat up every so often. Ironically, on the same day that 2012 DA14 flew by, a meteorite struck outside the remote Russian town of Chelyabinsk with the power of 30 atomic bombs. Amazingly, no one was killed. A century ago, a meteor broke up with similar force over Russia's Tunguska forest, flattening an estimated 80 million trees. Again, amazingly, no one was killed. But what if 2012 DA14 hadn't passed harmlessly by? What if it had struck the earth, with its estimated 3.5 megatons of energy and 200 times the power of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima?

There’s a myriad of questions to ask when thinking about an asteroid attack. One question that may not instantly pop in your head is, what would our friends at the IRS do?!?

Depending on how your brain works, it may or may not surprise you that the agency responsible for managing our country’s revenue has a well-established disaster plan. Internal Revenue Manual Section 10.2.10 outlines comprehensive continuity planning requirements for all sorts of emergencies, including "natural disasters, accidents, technological failures, workplace violence, and terrorism." The goal, in all cases, is "to ensure the continuation of IRS mission essential functions under all circumstances." And Section 25.16.1, updated just last June, lays out pages of disaster assistance and emergency relief program guidelines.

So, what actually happens if a chunk of space rock takes out Washington or another major city? The plan assumes that the IRS will resume assessing and collecting taxes within 30 days of the strike. They might be authorized to make cash grants to survivors, or buy assets destroyed in the disaster (and even pay off any outstanding bank loans or mortgages). IRS employees could be reassigned to any job "regardless of and without any effect on the current positions or grades of the employee."

The tax code actually gives you plenty of breaks if your stuff gets taken out from space. It allows you to deduct unreimbursed damage caused by a sudden, unexpected, or unusual event, which a meteor or asteroid certainly would be! (If you’re curious about the specifics, you’d have to reduce the amount of your loss by $100, then by 10% of your adjusted gross income. Then you'd report the remaining amount on Form 4864.)

If the IRS’ Disaster Plan shows us anything, it’s that even an asteroid plummeting into Earth wouldn’t stop you from owing taxes. Don’t assume you’ll be excused from paying over a little thing like that. Also, the IRS being ready should make you wonder: do YOU have a disaster plan in case of an asteroid impact?!