Reardon: Build Back Better Would Revolutionize Customer Service at IRS

Press Release December 9, 2021

Washington D.C. – Every step of the customer service experience for American taxpayers will be upgraded and improved under the Build Back Better’s 10-year investment in the IRS and its workforce. 

The legislation, which has passed the House and awaits action by the Senate, envisions an IRS that has the people and the technology to keep pace with the increasing volume and complexity of taxpayer inquiries. 

“The Build Back Better’s focus on customer service will revolutionize the relationship between taxpayers and the IRS,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said. “Having more tax professionals on hand with faster and better ways to communicate is essential to giving Americans the assurance that their tax return is handled accurately and fairly.” 

Through 2031, the Build Back Better plan would add $79 billion for IRS taxpayer services, business systems modernization, operations support and enforcement activities. While many have focused on how strengthened enforcement can catch tax dodgers and narrow the gap between what is owed and collected every year, the plan’s systemic improvements to customer service will have the most impact for regular Americans who simply need a little help to comply with the law. 

“We all know how complex the tax code is, and IRS employees take great pride in giving sound, professional guidance when a taxpayer needs it,” Reardon said. “The investments in Build Back Better will help reduce their frustration – and that of the taxpayers – when phone calls to the IRS are too numerous to answer.” 

On some high-volume days, calls to the IRS can average 1,500 calls per second. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said between January and August of this year, the agency received more than 199 million calls, a 400 percent increase over the average year. According to the IRS Data Book, the number of Customer Service Representatives employed at the end of the 2010 fiscal year was 21,057. At the same time in 2020, it was 12,422. 

“It’s simple math. We have more taxpayers asking more complicated questions about an increasingly complex tax code with fewer employees on hand to answer them. The Biden administration, and a bipartisan majority of lawmakers, recognizes that equation is not sustainable, which is why there is strong support for rebuilding the IRS,” Reardon said. 

Overall funding for the IRS decreased more than 22 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis from 2010-20 and resulted in the loss of 15,000 employees.  
The customer service investment in the IRS will also restore the staffing levels at Taxpayer Assistance Centers around the country, where taxpayers can make an appointment and meet with an IRS employee face-to-face. Too many of the TACs are understaffed or not staffed at all, depriving taxpayers of this essential government service, especially in rural communities. 

The money for technology modernization would also enhance customer service with improvements such as more options for digital communications, secure document exchange, expanded payment options, digital signature authorizations and automated callback programs. The National Taxpayer Advocate has reported that the agency’s 60 different case management systems are obsolete and limit taxpayers’ ability to obtain the full details about their case. 
Over the next 10 years, the IRS stands to lose 56,000 employees to retirement and attrition, and a multi-year commitment to recruitment and retention is essential. 

As the IRS Advisory Council reported last month, investments in the IRS workforce will benefit taxpayers:  

"Sustained, multi-year funding would help address this imbalance by enabling the IRS to more effectively target, hire, train and support staff which, in turn, improves taxpayer service. Consistent funding would also ensure that the IRS can sufficiently staff operations, information technology, and customer service roles in the current fiscal year and provide assurance that funds will be available for those employees in the future as they become more experienced and more effective employees.” 

NTEU represents about 150,000 employees in 34 federal agencies and departments.