Need help figuring out your 2014 federal tax return? Don't count on the Internal Revenue Service. The National Taxpayer Advocate's latest report to Congress says the IRS lacks the staff and funding to serve taxpayers:
- The IRS will be able to answer only 50% of the 100 million calls it will receive from taxpayers this fiscal year.
- Callers will often wait 30 minutes to speak to an IRS rep.
- In 2004, the IRS answered 87% of its calls, with an average hold time of 2.5 minutes.
- Last year, the IRS dropped tax prep service "for hundreds of thousands of low income, elderly, and disabled taxpayers who sought assistance."
- Voluntary and timely tax payment provides 98% of the federal government's revenue. Providing good customer service collects revenue far more efficiently than enforcement actions against taxpayers who don't file correctly or at all.
- Since FY2010, Congress has reduced the IRS budget 9.9% in straight dollars and 17.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars.
- Since FY2010, budget cuts have caused the IRS to cut workforce by 12.3%.
- Since FY2010, the IRS has cut its training budget by 87%. In a complicated field where rules and procedures change every year, the amount available to spend on training for each employee (FTE) has dropped in five years from $1,774 to $339.
- The IRS managed to answer a bit more its mail on time last year than the year before, but it still failed to process 51% of adjustments (i.e., "You owe us" or "We owe you") correspondence in its standard 45-day timeframe.
That lack of customer service is just one of multiple serious problems the National Taxpayer Advocate's office identifies at the IRS. We could ask for no better example of how smart government sometimes means bigger government: if we want more taxpayers to get answers to tax questions in less time, we need more staff with more training on more phones.
But Senator John Thune appears to prefer self-destructive failure:
Republicans who now control Congress and who led the effort to reduce the IRS budget don't seem too concerned about the agencies woes. It goes back to GOP charges that the agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax exempt status for extra scrutiny.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota: "I don't think that based on the IRS' record over the last couple of years that there's a whole lot of sympathy for the complaints that they're now making about not having enough funding. Obviously they have a job to do, it's an important job we want to make sure they have the resources to do that job to collect the taxes but wasting resources targeting conservative groups and other things like that is obviously something that we would take great issue with" [Brian Naylor, "IRS Budget Cuts May Make for an Unpleasant Tax Filing Season," NPR: Morning Edition, 2015.01.20].
The Cincinnati IRS office oversteps its bounds, and Senator Thune decides to strangle the entire IRS and leave taxpayers at sea. That makes about as much sense as a teacher reacting to one student scribbling on a desk by taking away everyone's writing utensils and then flunking the kids for not finishing their penmanship assignments. It's almost as if Senator Thune doesn't want us to submit our homework—er, taxes (ah ha! so that's his game!).
The Internal Revenue Service is not some partisan enemy. It is an essential arm of government, without which the ship of state sinks. Senator Thune and Congress can impose the necessary oversight on the IRS and still provide the resources to help tens of millions of taxpayers file their taxes correctly and on time.