IRS human resources office understands ahead of agency hiring spike, Congress warns

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The IRS is bracing for an increase in hiring as part of the Biden administration’s long-term proposal to undo a decade of budget and staffing cuts.

But the National Taxpayer Advocate, an internal watchdog, warns Congress that the IRS has fallen behind hiring targets in recent years and that its human resources office may not have the resources to attract a job. significant influx of new recruits into the agency. .

National taxpayer lawyer Erin Collins, in her annual report to Congress, said the IRS had not hired more than 5,000 full-time employees it planned to hire between fiscal 2017 and 2019, despite the allocation of funds for this increase in staff.

The IRS told Congress last year that it had 33,000 fewer employees than in 2010. During that decline, Collins said the IRS has been “unable to keep pace with its planned hires. , creating positions that help it fulfill its crucial mission of tax administration. not to be filled.

Nearly 5,600 employees leave the IRS each year, and as for those employees who will be eligible for retirement, Collins estimates that up to 32% of the IRS workforce could leave the agency. next year.

“If the IRS does not make significant changes, these staffing shortages will worsen and pose significant threats to the US Treasury and indirectly hurt taxpayer services and voluntary compliance,” Collins said.

Faced with these challenges, Collins urged lawmakers to approve a higher IRS budget that includes multi-year funding to support these hiring initiatives and overcome workforce attrition.

“The success of the IRS depends in large part on the skills of its workforce and employees to accomplish its mission and provide quality service to taxpayers. Therefore, it is imperative that the IRS not only receives the funding necessary to support the programs, but is also able to attract, hire and retain the right people to run these programs, ”wrote Collins in his report.

In addition to engaging with the IRS on hiring, recruiting and retention goals, Collins said his office will also determine whether the agency needs the direct hiring authority that Commissioner Chuck Rettig recently asked members of the Senate Finance Committee.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig recently told Congress that the hiring spike was supposed to get ahead of the 52,000 IRS employees who are expected to retire or leave the agency over the next six years. This projection, Rettig said, takes into account the fact that most IRS employees remain in post five years after reaching retirement eligibility. The agency has a workforce of approximately 83,000 employees.

Agencies have long feared a “wave of retirements” in the federal workforce, but those concerns have not materialized in recent years. However, the IRS remains suspicious of its ability to retain current staff.

Rettig recently told lawmakers he was looking to hire an additional 5,000 employees for the agency’s law enforcement operations. The agency currently has 6,500 tax officers in the field.

The IRS Human Capital Office handles agency recruiting, but the office itself has seen its staff dwindle over the years.

Collins notes that the HCO is taking steps to hire additional staff and is implementing changes to its processes, but warns that a more than 10% increase in IRS funding in fiscal year 2022 “will leave HCO unprepared to handle the increased demand for hiring without additional resources ”.

“This may cause HCO to prioritize certain hires over total IRS needs,” Collins wrote.

House lawmakers, at this early stage in drafting next year’s spending bill, have backed the Biden administration’s spending request for the IRS.

The House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on financial services and general government last month approved an spending bill that would give the IRS $ 13.6 billion in fiscal year 2022 – over 14 % increase from current spending levels, and above White House request for the agency.

The administration, in a Treasury Department report released in May, proposed to increase the IRS’s workforce by up to 15% each year for the next 10 years, with an emphasis on hiring. law enforcement and taxpayer services staff.

The agency, as part of this plan, would also see its budget increase by around 10% year on year.

IRS quadruples the number of taxpayer appeals in 2021

For all of the agency’s challenges, Collins acknowledged that the IRS has also taken on an unprecedented workload and implemented new programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS, she wrote, issued 475 million economic impact payments worth $ 807 billion over the three waves of payments.

During this year’s reporting season, the IRS processed 136 million personal income tax returns and issued 96 million refunds totaling $ 270 billion.

“The IRS and its employees deserve immense credit for what they have accomplished under very difficult circumstances, but there is always room for improvement,” she said.

But due to the challenges of the pandemic, the IRS’s 15,000 customer service representatives (CSRs) have been overwhelmed by the volume of calls from taxpayers this year – more than four times the number of calls it has. received in 2020, peaking at one point of 1,500 calls per second.

“Needless to say, IRS employees couldn’t handle this massive volume of calls,” Collins wrote.

The IRS reported a 15% service level for its account management phone lines, with just 7% of callers reaching call center employees.

One of the personal income tax assistance agency’s most-called phone lines recorded about 85 million calls, but only 3% of callers were able to reach a service representative at customers.

“These are hard conversations to have and hard to live with for taxpayers. In many cases, CSRs cannot determine the status of a taxpayer’s return or pending refund and are doing their best, ”Collins said.

Congress funded the IRS to provide a 60% level of service, meaning the IRS would be staffed to answer six out of ten calls. Collins said that figure is “unacceptable” even under the best of circumstances.

Meanwhile, the report found that the IRS ended the filing season with a historically high backlog.

Nearly 17 million paper tax returns are waiting to be processed, while nearly 16 million returns have required further review by the IRS. Collins said the backlog increases the need for the IRS to offer more of its services online.

Collins said the historically high IRS backlog means taxpayers may not receive timely refunds and will have to wait for the agency to process their returns.

“For taxpayers who can afford to wait, the best advice is to be patient and give the IRS time to resolve its backlog. But especially for low-income taxpayers and small businesses operating on the margin, late repayments can impose significant financial hardship. Not everyone can afford to be patient, ”Collins said.


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