Report Shows IRS Struggling to Keep Up With Workload Amid Budget Cuts

The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

(CN) – A new federal report released Wednesday shows the IRS struggled to send refunds to American taxpayers in 2019 as budget cuts and workload increases burdened the agency.

The Office of Taxpayer Advocate, an office in the IRS, revealed in an annual report that the IRS was late in sending legitimate refunds in 2019 to many taxpayers and failed to answer the majority of phone calls from the public.

The IRS received approximately 100 million telephone calls last year and customer service representatives answered only 29% of those.

The agency has reduced in-person assistance, closing more than 10% of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers in recent years. The cutbacks have forced taxpayers to schedule appointments in advance and reduced the number of taxpayers served by nearly half from 2015 to 2018.

According to the report, the IRS also failed to collect billions in unpaid taxes last year. The report shows it has been unable to collect an annual average of about $381 billion in unpaid taxes between 2011 and 2013 fiscal year period. This means each U.S. household is effectively paying $3,000 to subsidize noncompliance by others, according to an Associated Press report.

This follows years of budget cuts and a recent increase in workload in the IRS to implement a new tax law authorized by the Trump administration.

Acting National Taxpayer Advocate Bridget Roberts on Wednesday released her 2019 report to Congress, which outlined key issues related to the state of the IRS.

“According to its mission statement, the IRS aims to ‘Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all’,” Roberts wrote, adding “the report says the IRS is struggling to meet both of those goals.”

The IRS has been found to be among the lowest performing federal agencies in providing a positive customer experience last year, according to the report.

Roberts said the Taxpayer First Act, which was enacted into law on July 1, 2019, was the most comprehensive revision to IRS procedures since the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998.

“By passing the Taxpayer First Act, Congress has sent the IRS a clear message that it needs to rethink the way it operates – the services it provides, its organizational structure, the way it trains employees, and the technology it uses,” Roberts wrote.

The report said that the IRS also is struggling to enforce the law “with fairness to all” as many taxpayers who file legitimate returns waited weeks or months for a return in the past year because of a new fraud filter.

That fraud filter flagged and stopped the processing of nearly 1.1 million returns, but with a false positive rate of 71%. That means 71 out of every 100 refunds stopped by the new filter were eventually determined to be legitimate.

In this week’s release of findings, the Taxpayer Advocate’s office pushes Congress to increase funding for the IRS and consider the additional tax revenue it could generate with adequate resources.

The report called it “economically irrational to underfund the IRS.”

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