Washington D.C. – IRS employees are eager for the Monday start of the 2020 filing season but as recent government reports show, customer service during this busy time will be a challenge because of the agency’s persistently depleted budget, limited resources and smaller workforce.
“Make no mistake, IRS employees are committed to delivering a smooth, successful filing season and helping individuals and businesses file quickly and correctly, but that job, once again, will be difficult this year,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon.
NTEU represents about 70,000 frontline IRS employees around the country who process tax returns, answer taxpayer questions, enforce the tax code and collect 94 percent of the revenue that runs the federal government.
But 2020 marks a full decade of an agency that has been starved of funding and that austerity has come at a steep price: Not enough taxpayer phone calls are answered, it’s too hard to get an appointment for in-person assistance; fewer audits are conducted; and a net $381 billion in taxes owed have not been collected.
As the Taxpayer Advocate Service noted in its 2019 Annual Report to Congress, in the past 10 years the agency’s budget has fallen by 20.4 percent after adjusting for inflation, there are 20 percent fewer employees and the number of tax returns has increased by nine percent.
“IRS employees, to their credit, have managed to do more with less but after 10 straight years, it is taking a toll on their morale and their ability to do the quality work that the American people expect and deserve,” Reardon said.
In 2019, only 29 percent of taxpayer phone calls to the IRS were answered, down from 35 percent in 2018, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service. More specifically, phone calls to the Installment Agreement/Balance Due line – which taxpayers call when they are trying to arrange payment – were answered only 26 percent of the time.
Since 2011, the IRS has closed more than 10 percent of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers where taxpayers can receive free, in-person help and staffing at the centers has declined by more than 40 percent.
“At the dawn of the 2020 filing season, we hope the administration and Congress take note of the hard, government data documenting the damage these constant budget cuts have caused,” Reardon said. “The good news is that an influx of funding and staffing can spark an almost immediate improvement in customer service.”
The budget cuts have also weakened enforcement.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says that more than $3.3 billion in taxes go uncollected every year because the IRS has been forced to slash its workforce of revenue officers by 42 percent.
And the Government Accountability Office said the number of individual taxpayer audits has declined by 40 percent from 2011 to 2019, corresponding with deep cuts to the agency’s budget and workforce. Audits of large corporations have also dropped off, down to 7.9 percent in 2017.
The IRS, in its own annual report issued earlier this month, said the loss of nearly 30,000 full-time employees since 2010 “directly correlate(s) with a steady decline in the number of individual audits during the past nine years.”
“A smaller, less effective IRS means more individuals and corporations will inadvertently -- or intentionally -- avoid their tax responsibility, which undercuts the whole system and deprives our government of revenue,” Reardon said. “IRS employees believe in our system of voluntary tax compliance and they simply want the tools and resources to make it work properly.”
As the annual budget cycle gets underway, NTEU will be working with Congress to increase funding for the IRS in fiscal year 2021 to begin the process of rebuilding this critical agency.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments, including about 70,000 at the IRS.