Tags: Taxpayer | Advocate | IRS | Cuts

Taxpayer Advocate: If IRS Can't Help You, Blame Congress

Image: Taxpayer Advocate: If IRS Can't Help You, Blame Congress

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 10:57 AM

By Michael Kling

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If you can't get an answer from the IRS for a question on your tax returns, get the wrong information, or can't even get through on the phone, blame the agency's lack of funding, says the national taxpayer advocate.

The IRS has insufficient resources to do a good job of answering taxpayers' questions or helping them with their returns, says National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson in her 2013 Annual Report to Congress.

According to that report, the IRS last year could answer only 61 percent of calls from taxpayers seeking to speak with a customer service representative, down from 87 percent ten years ago.

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During fiscal year 2013, 39 percent of calls, about 20 million, didn't even get through. Those who did get through had to wait on hold for more than 17 minutes — six times longer than 10 years ago.

Last year, the IRS handled about 110,000 tax law questions at its walk-in sites during the filing season — a reduction of 86 percent from 10 years ago.

Ten years ago, it prepared about 476,000 returns for taxpayers seeking help, particularly low income, elderly and disabled taxpayers. It recently announced it will no longer prepare returns.

The IRS recently said it will answer only "basic" tax law questions over the phone and at its walk-in sites during the upcoming filing season, and it will not answer any tax law questions after the filing season, including questions from millions of taxpayers who obtain filing extensions and prepare their returns later in the year.

"It is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours — and then is unable to answer any questions beyond ‘basic' ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply," Olson says in the report.

Sequestration substantially cut IRS funding, which translated into less taxpayer service, she says. When it comes to tax collection, budget cuts increase the government's budget deficit.

Cuts to training are particularly worrisome, she says. Since 2010, the IRS's training budget was cut from $172 million to $22 million. Without proper training, workers at the agency are more likely to give incorrect information, no information, or file inappropriate liens.

New IRS Commissioner John Koskinen pressed for more funding at his confirmation hearing last month, according to The Wall Street Journal. More funding would mean higher revenue collection, he said.

"I don't know any organization in my 20 years of experience in the private sector that has said, 'I think I'll take my revenue operation and starve it for funds to see how it does,'" he said.

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