On Friday, September 29, approximately 30 George Mason University students met at the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the IRS Citizen Academy.
Throughout the course of the full workday they were split into four teams, each coached by IRS-CI special agents. Presented with a realistic case study, the students, who were primarily from the School of Business, worked through all the steps on how to investigate a potential tax crime. The Citizen Academy was presented in partnership with Mason’s chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honor organization for financial information students and professionals.
IRS-CI is the only law enforcement agency that has the authority to investigate potential tax crimes and violations of the Internal Revenue Code. Previously known as the Adrian Project, the IRS Citizen Academy is a unique opportunity for students to not only learn what the agency does but actually go through the actions themselves while having the opportunity to ask special agents for feedback. “It is a tool that we like to use to get people familiar with IRS criminal investigation, to get their brain thinking ‘hey, I can have another career outside of being a typical accountant. I can go out and investigate these tax crimes,’” said Special Agent in Charge Kareem Carter. In order to qualify for the IRS-CI, applicants must have at least 15 accounting credit hours, a prerequisite easily fulfilled by accounting students and other students from the business school.
“It’s a unique experience for Mason students to participate in the IRS Citizen Academy program,” says Long Chen, area chair and associate professor of accounting at George Mason University School of Business. “This program enhances student experiential learning and career readiness through real-world applications, ethical considerations, and transferable skills, such as data analysis, research, communication, and critical thinking. This once-in-a-lifetime educational experience for students also aligns well with the School of Business and accounting area’s strategic focus on experiential learning and preparing students for future success in the business world.” The IRS Citizen Academy is usually held on college campuses, but they tried something new this time having students visit the office as if they were coming in for a day of work. “The real office makes it seem more real rather than being outside of their office,” said Melvin Reyes, Beta Alpha Psi outreach ambassador and a student in the master’s in finance program. “This is what they do every day. Just to see their environment is amazing.”
The special agents used content typically found in real cases to present the students with a challenge that they could expect to face on the job as an IRS-CI special agent. “The hands-on experience, getting to actually look at financial statements, go through trash funds to look at evidence, that’s really fun and exciting for everyone to get that real-life experience before they’re actually in the field,” says Reema Hammad, Beta Alpha Psi treasurer and a junior studying accounting and finance.
The students were instructed how to conduct the investigation from start to finish, including how to properly apply handcuffs and how to act as undercover special agents. “Here are some things I really appreciated: the warm welcome, the obvious camaraderie among the special agents, the appropriate mix of presentations and interactive components, and the approachable nature of all the volunteers,” said Jamyung Kim, Beta Alpha Psi member and a senior studying accounting. “I was so touched by the amount of effort that went into preparing for this just for us.”
Some students had previous experience with forensic accounting, but for others the entire lesson presented an opportunity that they had never considered. “I don’t have any experience in forensics or anything like that so the whole experience has been really nice to dip my toes into it,” says Abby Tran, Beta Alpha Psi member and a senior studying management information systems (MIS). “This opportunity was very insightful and, although this event was more targeted toward accounting majors, as an MIS major, I had a lot of fun and was able to take away a lot of vital information.”
The case study concluded with the students making mock arrests—with real handcuffs and wearing the IRS-CI uniform—and then presenting their cases in front of a special agent playing the judge. Afterwards, they were able to ask the special agents questions on anything they wanted to know.
Ethan Kinory, an instructional assistant professor in accounting and the faculty advisor for Beta Alpha Psi, was in attendance with the group. “Upon our arrival, we were warmly welcomed by a group of about 20 impeccably dressed IRS special agents, their smiles as wide as their enthusiasm,” said Kinory. “While they might have aimed to awe us with their intelligence and crime-fighting superhero-like prowess, what truly left a lasting impression were their genuine passion for their work, their unwavering dedication to making a positive impact on the world, and their heartfelt commitment to nurturing the minds of Mason students. We are immensely grateful not only to the dedicated IRS special agents but also to the accounting area chair and the dean's office for their indispensable support, which made this enriching experience possible.” It was a day of learning, excitement, and fun as the Mason students got a taste of what it would be like to be an IRS-CI special agent, an experience they won’t soon forget.