Earlier this week, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen said that taxpayers should expect the agency’s customer service to “get worse” during the upcoming tax filing season unless Congress increases the agency’s budget, considering the new low set last year.
In a national conference held in Washington, Koskinen told hundreds of tax professionals that, “With the budget the Senate and House are proposing, service will get worse if you can imagine that.” Koskinen argued that these failures should be blamed on the budget cuts and not on the inefficiency of the agency’s employees.
IRS Performance Worsens Amidst Budget Cuts
Koskinen pointed out some new statistics to the audience: After five years of budget cuts, the IRS was only able to conduct 1.2 million individual audits this year. This is their lowest level in 11 years.
The revenue collected from audits is an important source of income to the federal government and the IRS’s best strategy for ensuring that Americans pay their taxes. Unfortunately, the commissioner said they also sank to a 13-year low. From 2005 to 2010, the revenue audits brought in averaged $14.7 billion annually. Since 2010 the number has dropped to $10.5 billion.
“We don’t have enough people anywhere in this agency. We’re losing our effectiveness. You end up leaving tax revenue on the table. In cutting the IRS budget, the government is forgoing billions just to achieve budget savings of a few hundred million dollars,” Koskinen said.
Service deteriorated noticeably during the last filing season, when only 40 percent of calls were answered and the taxpayers that sought help in-person waited on long queues outside the agency’s customer service centers. Several callers reported that they had been waiting on the phone for up to two hours, but would have their call automatically disconnected.
A total of 8.8 million calls were hung up on by the IRS customer service staff. This happened under a system of “courtesy disconnects,” a euphemism for when an overloaded system hangs up on a caller because there’s no one available to answer the phone.
A Campaign to Turn Around 5 Years of Budget Cuts
Koskinen aims to correct five years of budget cuts from Congress, led by House Republicans, that brought about a $1.2 billion or a 17 percent reduction. The agency lost about 15,000 employees during that time, and right now no plans have been made to replace most of them. Congress has previously proposed to cut $838 million more this fiscal year, while the Senate proposed $470 million.
Koskinen, however, said that he is not optimistic and that there is still a possibility that the IRS would see even less money than last year.