The end of the 2016 tax season is less than a week away and so far service from our employees at the IRS has been as disappointing as usual – perhaps a little more so. Don’t look to the IRS for help if you are a victim of tax fraud, or if you just need help filing your taxes, because the odds that you can even connect to anyone at the IRS are not that great.
The IRS answered just seven out of ten phone calls through mid-February, leaving about one third of U.S. taxpayers with a dead signal, according to a federal report. The level of service was 33 percentage points higher than last year and the average wait time fell by 9 minutes. However, that’s just like going from woeful to pretty bad.
The IRS expects that customer service overall will increase from a bottom of 38 percent last year to 47 percent this year. The projected wait times will decrease from a whopping 31 minutes to 26 minutes – big improvement, right? Somehow, I doubt many taxpayers will feel the difference of those 5 minutes when they are wasting a half-hour of their day on hold with the IRS.
The uptick on customer service is attributed to the $290 million increase in funding the IRS received and used to hire about 1,000 temporary workers this tax season. IRS head John Koskinen has relented in slamming congressional conservatives in hopes that he can get an extra $1 billion more for manpower. Let’s not forget though that the reason they had their budget paired down was because IRS manpower was being misused to target conservative organizations rather than the functions for which it was created.
If you read what the Boston Globe reports, you are likely to see an army of dedicated public servants dedicated to delivering service rather than using its time for less worthy endeavors (such as targeting conservatives):
‘‘The IRS is continuing to struggle to deliver for the American taxpayer,’’ said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. ‘‘I think that there’s no question but that the IRS needs more resources and they need more personnel to meet the demand for taxpayer services, to catch tax cheats and criminals, to effectively fight identity fraud, to enforce tax laws and to collect all the taxes that are owed.’’
Reardon, who represents IRS employees, called a telephone news conference last week to continue the union’s long fight for more funding.
The IRS suffered a 21 percent staffing cut, amounting to almost 23,000 full- and part-time employees, from 2011 to 2016, the union says. Yet the workload grew. An IRS statement said its budget is ‘‘more than $900 million below 2010 levels despite handling more than 10 million additional tax returns a year and gaining major legislative programs since then.’’
Let’s look at one reason that the IRS’s workload has increased over the past few years: enforcement of ObamaCare. The President’s signature law requires that every American prove he or she has healthcare or face steep fines levied as taxes and collected by the IRS. That's a lot of work.
Outside of customer service, the IRS hasn’t been doing a good job of some of its other core responsibilities such as protecting the data they collect. This tax season the IRS has already been hacked and let’s not forget last years’ massive data breach at the federal and state level affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans.
The IRS has plans to move customer service from telephone and in person visits to online services by creating millions of online accounts. Automating services and digitizing customer care can be helpful, but we have to wonder how secure this will be and what that means for those who still need to speak to someone because their IRS accounts have been hacked. Security is still a weakness and until that is rectified, the IRS may want to rectify and improve what they have.