If there's anything the public in general does not need, it is a bigger and more bloated government bureaucracy.

Likewise, if there's anything that taxpayers in particular do not need, it is more of those pesky tax audits.But Americans are likely to get both more IRS agents and more audits unless they can stem the trend toward more and more tax cheating.

This week the Utah Foundation indicated how far the problem has gone. The foundation noted that 17 percent of the taxes owed on legal income in the United States is not reported and paid.

This translates into a loss of $85 billion in federal revenue for 1987, a figure that is expected to increase to $114 billion by 1992.

In other words, tax cheaters are costing Uncle Sam enough money to eliminate the deficit and balance the federal budget.

They're costing the state of Utah an estimated $100 million a year in lost revenue.

And they're costing the average person who pays an honest federal tax about $642 a year.

As recently as 15 years ago, tax cheating in the United States amounted to less than $30 billion a year. Because so many American taxpayers were honest, the IRS was able to police four times as many taxpayers as there are in Great Britain with only about the same number of IRS agents as the British had.

But if Americans keep cheating on their taxes more and more, the IRS will have to get tougher. Think about that when making out your income tax returns early this year. And think about one other pertinent point:

When it comes to going after tax cheats, there's no such thing as a statute of limitations. A few years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that no time limit should be imposed on the IRS in the pursuit of taxpayers charged with fraud - even when those taxpayers file an amended return after filing a fraudulent one.

That prospect should cause a few sleepless nights. Let's hope it also prompts more integrity at tax time.