A new report claims that this year’s customer service from the IRS may be among the worst since 2001. According to national taxpayer advocate and IRS employee Nina E. Olson, taxpayers should expect longer waits for both phone calls and file-processing, largely due to an increasing number of tax returns, a variety of budget-cuts, and reduced staffing – the IRS has cut ties with over 12,000 employees in recent years and more cuts are anticipated for 2015.
“Taxpayers who need help are not getting it,” she said, “and tax compliance is likely to suffer over the longer term if these problems are not quickly and decisively addressed.”
Low public approval of the IRS is nothing new, but the organization has not always struggled; 2004, for example, was an excellent year for its customer service in which 87% of all taxpayer calls were answered and holds averaged only 2 ½ minutes. Ten years later, however, there is a much bigger load to carry. The IRS now manages over 150 million individual tax returns and 100 million phone calls each year at an increasing rate, and predictions for the 2015 tax season are bleak: responses to calls may drop to as low as 43% and hold-times may last up to thirty minutes or more.
“The only way the IRS can assist the tens of millions of taxpayers seeking to speak with an IRS employee is to have enough employees to answer their calls,” said Olson. “The only way the IRS can timely process millions of taxpayer letters is to have enough employees to read the letters and act on them. And the only way the IRS can meet the needs of the millions of taxpayers who visit its walk-in sites is to have enough employees to staff them.”
Increasing staffing and expanding the budget are arguably the primary goals in combating the IRS’s mediocre customer service, and Olson has also encouraged Congress to work with the organization to develop both short-term and long-term solutions.
“We need to recognize that the IRS and its employees play a vital role in the economic welfare of this country,” she asserted. “And we need to find a way to support the agency even as we hold it accountable for what is often a thankless task.”
“We do not think it is acceptable for the government to tell millions of taxpayers who seek help each year, in essence, ‘We’re sorry. You’re on your own.’”
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