Washington D.C. – An iconic and vital piece of our nation’s tax system is deteriorating.
Taxpayer Assistance Centers, where Americans can get free, in-person assistance from IRS professionals, are not as accessible as they should be.
As the 2019 tax filing season comes to a close Monday, the National Treasury Employees Union wants to alert Congress and the public to the fading ability of the IRS to meet the needs of taxpayers who don’t or can’t communicate by telephone or computer.
“Taxpayer Assistance Centers are not a relic. They are not outdated. They are a marvel of customer service for our federal government, but their numbers are dwindling and their staffing is stretched too thin,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said.
The IRS has its shingle out in 358 different locations across America where people who need help with their taxes can make an appointment, gather up their paperwork and walk in to get personal, face-to-face guidance from a dedicated IRS employee.
But as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recently reported, as of March 1 of this year, 33 of them could not open their doors because they had no staff. Many others have only one employee or a temporary employee who works limited days per week.
“We have a tax system that essentially operates on the honor code and most people want to get it right, so they visit a TAC to settle up and pay their fair share. Why do we discourage them by making it harder for them to get there?” Reardon said.
The number of TACs has dropped nearly 11 percent from just eight years ago, when there were 401 locations.
The National Taxpayer Advocate for years has raised concerns about the cuts to the TACs. NTEU leaders within the IRS are now doing the same.
In a recent survey of the union’s IRS chapter presidents, 91 percent say the TACs in their area are understaffed. And 70 percent say they have at least one TAC in their jurisdiction with one or fewer employees.
The damage to the TACs is directly related to sustained cuts to the IRS budget over the last decade and the IRS’ continued push to direct taxpayers to online assistance—even when many taxpayers are unable to access the IRS website. Since 2010, the IRS has lost $845 million and 23,000 full-time employees.
NTEU is pleased to see concern from Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the threat to the TACs.
The Taxpayer First Act that recently passed the House includes a provision requiring the IRS to provide public notice to taxpayers and Congress 90 days before the closure of a TAC, and information about alternative forms of assistance for people who are affected.
“As the tax code grows more complicated, the number of people needing help rises, and IRS customer service employees feel an obligation to be there for their fellow citizens,” Reardon said. “Congress and the administration should provide the funding and resources necessary to fully staff the TACs and restore the IRS’ ability to help those taxpayers who can’t afford high-priced private accountants.”
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments, including about 70,000 IRS employees around the country.