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Help Us Improve the “Service” in the Internal Revenue Service

Man on hold with IRSIt is no secret that IRS service during this past tax season plunged to a level that I can only describe as unacceptable.  The anecdotes from members keep coming in, and from what we hear, the predicted 53-minute average wait time to reach someone on the IRS Practitioner Priority Hotline is not so much an average as it is wishful thinking. That prediction came from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who said in November that the IRS will try “to do as well as we can. As well as we can is still going to be miserable.” 

Taxpayers trying to get through to a representative are not faring much better as discussed in recent news reports and shown in the chart below. In its annual report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate deemed this to be the most serious problem facing taxpayers. 

Tax chart 2

 Source: National Taxpayer Advocate Report to Congress 2014

 

Despite a steady rise in the number of tax returns filed by both taxpayers and businesses, the IRS’ budget has been cut for five straight years and the agency’s staffing has dropped by over 12% since fiscal 2010.  That’s 13,000 fewer employees available to answering calls, conducting investigations or handling correspondence.  Add to that the workload brought by the Affordable Care Act and FATCA responsibilities, and – well - misery is no surprise.  And in remarks made March 31, Koskinen noted that 3,000 employees are expected to retire this October and another 25% of the agency’s workforce is eligible to retire next year, so we haven’t even seen the worst of it yet.

The impacts of recent budget cuts go far beyond waiting on the phone for a couple of hours.  Delayed responses to notices, cuts in e-Services, an under-trained staff and outdated technology are among the additional problems confronting the agency that spills over to taxpayers and practitioners. As noted in our written testimony to a congressional panel last year, while we acknowledge the importance of the IRS efficiently using its resources and appropriately administering the law, adequate resources are vital to fulfilling its customer service and enforcement responsibilities.  

For most members, I suspect that complaining about the decline in IRS service feels like complaining about the weather. It may feel good to let off a bit of steam but it doesn’t really do any good.  

But we will ask our members to let off some steam in a constructive, rational way that lays out the facts to help guide our decisions. This is what CPAs are famous for and one of the many reasons why our profession is so highly valued.  The AICPA is sending out a brief survey that asks you about your recent experiences with the IRS and what changes would have the most significant impact for you.

We will use the survey results and your real life experiences to shape both our future recommendations to Congress, and our day-to-day interactions with the IRS.  

Please consider taking a few minutes to fill out our survey. Help us tell your story so we can help make the winter of this filing season give way to next year’s more promising spring.

Edward Karl, Vice President-Taxation, American Institute of CPAs. 

Man on hold courtesy of Shutterstock

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