Washington, D.C. – The single greatest threat to the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to deliver a smooth filing season, implement tax reform and assist individual and corporate taxpayers is the diminished IRS budget and workforce, National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon told Congress today.
The agency’s own statistics show an ever-increasing workload shouldered by a shrinking number of frontline civil servants.
In 2010, the IRS had 92,148 full-time employees to administer tax laws and process 230 million tax returns. By the close of 2017, that number had fallen to 70,573 people to administer a more complicated tax code and process 245 million much more complex tax returns.
Reardon highlighted the imbalance in testimony submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government for its Wednesday hearing on the IRS budget.
“The lack of sufficient staffing has strained IRS’ capacity to meet its stated mission of providing America's taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities, and to enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all,” Reardon wrote.
Reardon said he is disappointed in the administration’s $11.1 billion budget request for the IRS in 2019 because it would cut more than $295 million from the agency’s 2017 funding level and reduce the number of full-time employees by 5,800. The impact would be severe on all IRS frontline employees and the taxpayers they are committed to serving.
For example, the administration itself predicts that the reduced staffing levels would lower the phone level of service from 75 percent in 2018 to 47 percent in 2019. Since 2010, the Customer Service Representative corps -- in person, online and telephone – has fallen by 56 percent. This means there are almost 12,000 fewer tax professionals available to answer questions, just as the agency starts implementing the largest rewrite to the tax code in 30 years. Coupled with an anticipated increase of at least 4 million calls related to the changes in the tax code, the strain on customer service would be significant.
“Without additional funding to meet the expected rising demand, taxpayers will continue experiencing a degradation of services, including longer wait times to receive assistance over the telephone and increasing correspondence inventories,” Reardon wrote.
The National Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS Advisory Council, former IRS commissioners and the tax preparer community have all warned of the dangers of inadequate agency funding, showing NTEU is not alone in its concern.
Insufficient funding also makes it harder for the IRS to collect the money that is rightfully owed and catch the cheaters. There are 7,700 fewer revenue officers and revenue agents since 2010, and the rate of returns audited is at its lowest point in 16 years.
The tax gap is $450 billion, which is money that could be used to fund vital government services or reduce the debt.
“NTEU strongly believes that only by providing the IRS with additional resources will the IRS be able to meet the rising workload level, stabilize and strengthen tax compliance and customer service programs, and allow the Service to address the federal deficit in a serious and meaningful way,” Reardon wrote.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.