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Survey of NTEU Chapters Details Taxpayer Service Suffering from Funding Shortfalls

Wednesday, February 26 2014

Washington, D.C.—A survey of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapters around the country depicts a tax filing season characterized by long waits for assistance, angry taxpayers, low employee morale and cutbacks in taxpayer services at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“Our survey of NTEU chapter presidents from around the country found severe budget cuts at the IRS are having a dire impact on taxpayer services and employee morale this filing season,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley. “Taxpayers are frustrated because they cannot get the help they need and employees are frustrated because they cannot service taxpayers as they have in the past.”

Local union leaders representing IRS employees were asked to assess the impact of inadequate funding at the IRS service centers, calls sites and Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) in their regions. The responses represent data collected from more than 90 NTEU chapters from every region of the country.

The following are some of the key findings (the numbers represent the percentage of chapter presidents who agreed with the statement):

• Hold times on the IRS toll-free lines (97 percent) and lines at walk-in centers (86 percent) are longer than in previous filing seasons.
• Employee morale in these key customer service positions is at an all-time low (89 percent)
• Taxpayers are venting their anger at employees because of the long hold times (83 percent).
• Taxpayers also get angry when employees have to tell them they cannot assist them with a particular problem (88 percent).
• Most taxpayers start lining up at walk-in centers hours before they open with 68 percent lining up at 7 a.m. or earlier.
• Many TACs have only one or two employees. This causes operational problems when employees get sick or need to take time off (79 percent).

“To see the impact underfunding is having on service,” President Kelley said, “one needs only to visit a walk-in center in Tampa, Edison or San Diego to see taxpayers lined up before 7 a.m., some with walkers and infants.”

One chapter president described the reason for falling employee morale: “The employees are frustrated at the inability to assist the taxpayers. They have the knowledge and ability but have to advise taxpayers to seek assistance elsewhere.”

Since FY 2011, funding for the IRS has been cut by nearly $1 billion, a reduction of almost 8 percent, forcing the IRS to reduce the total number of full-time employees by about 10,000. In testimony submitted today to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, the NTEU leader warned that “without additional resources, further degradation in taxpayer services will occur that adds risk to our voluntary compliance system.

Here are additional comments from the survey:

Taxpayer Frustration:
• More than one employee has talked of irate responses from taxpayers and several taxpayers have had strong emotional reactions to denial of service--crying, yelling and begging for help.
• Employees have been yelled at and called names by taxpayers.
• Some taxpayers are upset before they get to the office. They become more upset with long lines and wait time, as well as no returns being prepared.
• Taxpayers are angry when employees notify them of their limited capabilities because of being short staffed and refer them to online sources.

Disproportionate Impact:
• TAC customers are low income and do not have access to computers with printers or don't understand how to obtain the information they need from a computer.
• South Dakota is a very rural area and some people have to drive several hundred miles to get to offices only to be told we can't help them. Also, a lot of the elderly people in SD do not have computers.
• The disadvantaged and elderly taxpayers are suffering the most.

Long Lines:
• The Tampa office has over 300 taxpayers come every day, often many are turned away and asked to come back another day because there are only so many employees to help.
• We have lines that extend 20 to 30 people deep in addition to a full (seated) waiting room of approximately 40 customers.
• Lines are out the door and services have been drastically reduced. Taxpayers are frustrated and angry.

NTEU is the nation’s largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.

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