IRS should get spending in order before asking for larger budget, House says

By Jory Heckman
Federal News Radio

Customer service at the Internal Revenue Service, by the agency head’s own admission, has been poor this tax filing season. But the House Ways and Means Committee doesn’t believe the IRS commissioner when he says — as he often does — that the agency has done all it can with its limited budget.

The release of the Ways and Means Committee’s report Wednesday marked the latest public shaming of the IRS, just one week after National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson called the IRS’ level of customer service “officially the worst since 2001.”

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has not shied away from the agency’s shortcomings for the 2015 tax season. Koskinen told the Senate Finance Commitee in January that the IRS’ level of service fell to 50 percent — meaning 50 percent of callers to the IRS cannot get through to a live operator to answer their questions. And as recently as 2007, at least half of IRS tax data has been stored on magnetic tape, a fact much derided by comedian John Oliver

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But Koskinen has often responded to criticism by mentioning that the IRS has 13,000 fewer employees and $1.2 billion cut from its budget since fiscal 2010. But the Ways and Means report claims the IRS “deliberately” cut funding for customer service when it could have found savings elsewhere.

“These findings are deeply troubling,” said Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “At all times, but especially during tax season, the IRS should put the taxpayer first. But instead, the agency cut funding for the very customer service that taxpayers rely on. The IRS has a lot to answer for, and the Ways and Means Committee is going to hold it accountable.”

The report takes issue with IRS management on matters previously raised by the Republican leadership in Congress — tax-delinquent federal employees, paying bonuses to agency employees and use of “official time” during the workday.

“The IRS’s spending choices and mismanagement of resources raise serious questions about the nature and extent of the agency’s self-described budget crisis and its commitment to serving the taxpayer,” the report said.

The report claims the IRS reduced its total funding for taxpayer assistance by 6 percent, while awarding $60 million in bonuses to its employees — at a time when the agency did not yet know what its budget would be for fiscal 2015.

It also claims that the time spent on official time by the IRS workforce this year could have been used to respond to an additional 2 million taxpayer calls to the IRS. While the agency brings in 93 percent of the federal government’s revenue, the report suggests that it could collect another $100 million if it contracted with private debt collectors to help with enforcement.

Congress has been wary of the IRS since 2010, when the agency was put on notice for spending $50 million in lavish conferences, during which employees made professionally produced spoof videos of shows like “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island.”

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