Washington, D.C. — An adequately funded Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is key to providing taxpayers the professional customer service they deserve, according to congressional testimony Friday from the National Taxpayer Advocate and supported by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).
NTEU agrees with National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson that taxpayers deserve timely, accurate and professional assistance when they contact the agency, and funding cuts over the years have hindered that service.
“Simply put, the IRS cannot function well in the 21st century with the budget it has today,” states Olson’s report to Congress. “More funding is paramount — for taxpayer service, for compliance functions, for the agency’s enforcement function (Criminal Investigation), for technology, and for its ‘support’ operations like security and real estate.”
The IRS has lost nearly 18,000 permanent employees in the last six years, which means there are fewer tax professionals answering phones, or available to meet with taxpayers in person at Taxpayer Assistance Centers.
“The latest copy of the IRS Data Book shows that IRS employees are processing more returns with fewer people and conducting fewer audits of those returns,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “We agree with the National Taxpayer Advocate that customer service is a key mission of the IRS, and that service suffers when budgets are slashed.”
The increasingly complex tax code requires an adequate number of trained IRS professionals be available to help taxpayers navigate their returns, both personal and business. As the National Taxpayer Advocate has previously reported, the IRS receives more than 100 million phone calls a year. Among those routed to telephone assistors, only 53 percent of those calls were able to be answered last year, and taxpayers were kept on hold an average of 18 minutes.
Delays in customer service affect lower- and middle-income taxpayers the most because they are least likely to be able to afford to hire a professional tax preparer and need the free IRS assistance.
"Surprisingly, some on Capitol Hill refuse to acknowledge that struggles in customer service are a direct result of budget cuts and understaffing,” Reardon said. “Just this week a member of Congress suggested that somehow IRS employees were to blame for calls going unanswered. No, congressman, it’s having 18,000 fewer people on hand to do the job that taxpayers clearly need and rightfully expect.”
Taxpayers would be better served and supported with person-to person contact if the IRS were adequately funded, which is why NTEU is endorsing a request by Rep. Keith Ellison, (D-Minn.) giving the IRS a $12.9 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
NTEU is also supporting legislation from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) that would prevent the IRS from using private collection agencies to pursue overdue taxpayer debts. IRS professionals are best equipped to help taxpayers having difficulty meeting their tax obligations, not for-profit companies who work on commission.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 31 federal agencies and departments.