National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson submitted her annual report to Congress, and the focus this year is on the levels of taxpayer service.
To be specific, the NTA expresses concern that taxpayers this year are likely to receive the worst levels of taxpayer service since at least 2001 when the IRS first instituted the performance measures it has in place now.
Rather than just focus on the drop in levels of service and provide recommendations to improve the situation, the NTA did one better.
The report recommended that Congress should enact a principles-based Taxpayer Bill of Rights that includes a Right to Quality Service, and provide enough funding to make this right a reality.
The NTA has been urging the IRS to adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights since 2007, and the IRS finally did so last year.
With the IRS on-board, a principles-based Taxpayer Bill of Rights as part of the tax law is something that the Republican Congress can hardly refuse, considering all that’s happened in the last year.
Sneaking in a Right to Quality Service, which by definition needs adequate funding for the IRS, is a masterstroke on the part of the NTA.
Here’s the magnitude of the problem - The IRS typically receives more than 100 million telephone calls, 10 million letters, and five million visits at its walk-in sites from taxpayers each year.
The best service in recent years was provided in 2004, when the IRS answered 87 percent of calls from taxpayers seeking to speak with an assistor, and hold times averaged 2.5 minutes.
That year, the IRS prepared nearly 500,000 tax returns for taxpayers who requested help, and maintained an outreach and education program that touched an estimated 72 million taxpayers.
By contrast, IRS service expectations for FY 2015 are as follows:
- The IRS is unlikely to answer even half the telephone calls it receives, and levels of service may average as low as 43 percent;
- Those who do manage to get through are expected to wait on hold for 30 minutes on average and considerably longer at peak times;
- Tax return preparation assistance has been eliminated;
- During the filing season, the IRS will not answer any tax-law questions except “basic” ones. After the filing season, it will not answer any tax-law questions at all.
A lot of this is directly attributable to budget cuts. The IRS’s budget has been reduced by about 17 percent in inflation-adjusted terms just since FY 2010. This has reduced the agency’s workforce by nearly 12,000 employees, with further reductions in the pipeline during FY 2015.
To make matters worse, the IRS has reduced the amount it spends on employee training since FY 2010 by 83 percent. A shrinking workforce of employees who are now less equipped to do their jobs is obviously going to lead to a steep drop in service levels.
The report notes that Congress passed taxpayer rights legislation in 1988, 1996, and 1998 but has not passed any significant taxpayer rights legislation in the last 16 years.
“The National Taxpayer Advocate believes the time is right for taxpayer rights legislation,” the report says. “The passage of time has shown where new protections are needed. Without providing these specific taxpayer protections, the [Taxpayer Bill of Rights] becomes merely a statement of principles, without any teeth to ensure that these fundamental rights are protected on a daily basis, and that taxpayers have remedies and the IRS is held accountable for any violations of these rights.”
Read the full annual report submitted to Congress by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.
Photo credit - taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov