By Alex Fries
Chances are you, just like many other Americans, will cringe when I mention the Internal Revenue Service or IRS for short. While in the past the agency has come under fire for the targeting of conservative groups, the agency has managed to stay out of the news for a couple of months. However, it is about to resurface in the news. This time for something very different.
If you are a hard working American taxpayer, you may very well know that last Wednesday was Tax Day. What you might not have priorly known, unless you tried to call the IRS and get assistance with your tax return, is that it appears that the Internal Revenue Service considers customer service and adequately staffed customer service centers a low priority. Stephen Ohlemacher, an Associated Press reporter covering Congress in addition to Social Security and the IRS, reported that 8 million taxpayers’ phone calls to the Internal Revenue Service went unanswered, and only 40 percent of those who actually got through got to talk to a person. That is without mentioning the fact that many callers had to wait on hold for more than 30 minutes.
This is especially concerning, considering the newest requirements that taxpayers have to report whether or not they had health insurance the year prior. Seeing how these are new reporting procedures, one might think that the IRS might have anticipated an increase in the need for these customer services and could not have picked a worse time to cut these services.
In a report made by the House Ways and Means Committee it became clear that the Internal Revenue Service is reallocating major amounts of taxpayers’ dollars and not to assist the taxpayer with what has become a nearly impossible system to navigate for the average American.
The IRS has several accounts, one of these is the so-called User-fee account which receives its money, as the name suggests, from various sources such as applications and other requests.
The reason why these user-fees are significant in this context is that according to the House Ways and Means report, in 2014 the agency spent roughly $183 million or 44 percent of the User-Fee account on taxpayer services. However, this year “the IRS plans to spend $49 million on taxpayer services, or 10 percent of the User-Fee account.”
However, the IRS’s poor choices do not stop there, they have made many more. One of the poor choices the agency made was to also reallocate staff in customer service from answering the growing amount phone calls to answering written correspondence. According to the House Ways and Means report which credits the Government Accountability Office, or GAO for short, with discovering that the decision made by the IRS to shift customer service staff from answering phone calls to answering written correspondence, has not only contributed to a decline in the level of service, but potentially could also lead to an increase in the IRS’s costs.
To me it is crystal clear that the agency needs to face a top to bottom review of its structure and overall operating procedures. It baffles me that the top IRS official, the IRS commissioner John Koskinen stated on Wednesday that the budgets cuts made by Congress left him no choice but to reallocate funds and staff, even though it appears that there is significant evidence suggesting otherwise.
Alex Fries is a sophomore athletic training major and the president of the UNH College Republicans. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AJFriesNH.