IRS Complains About Budget Cuts, But It Cut Its Own Customer Service Budget

Earlier this year, John Koskinen, the IRS Commissioner, complained about the IRS budget given to him by Congress. It was reduced by nearly $350 million for this fiscal year. Commissioner Koskinen claimed the “agency’s $10.9 billion budget is its lowest since 2008. When adjusted for inflation, the budget hasn’t been this low since 1998.”

Due to budget cuts, the IRS warned that customer service would be reduced. The Taxpayer Advocate, (the IRS watchdog of sorts) recently gave her semi-annual report to Congress and discussed this issue at length. Among her findings were 1) if you call, it is likely that only half of the estimated 100 million people will ever reach an IRS agent on the other end; 2) hold times will exceed 30 minutes or more; and 3) the IRS is mandated to provide callers with the option to speak to a live person on its helplines, but would not even clarify to the Taxpayer Advocate which lines are designated helplines when calling in.

Now it seems that the dire, reduced customer service has already been happening for the past year and was orchestrated by the IRS itself. A new House Ways and Means report shows that, “while congressional funding for the IRS remained flat from 2014 to 2015, the IRS diverted $134 million away from customer service to other activities. In addition to the $11 billion appropriated by Congress, the IRS takes in more than $400 million in user fees and may allocate that money as it sees fit. In 2014, the IRS allocated $183 million in user fees to its customer service budget, but allocated just $49 million in 2015–a 76 percent cut.” How much more will they cut for FY2016? How much worse will customer service get?

Just as Obama dared to close national parks and monuments and cut off treatment for cancer kids during the government shutdown, in order to inflict pain on ordinary citizens, the IRS decided follow the same tactic and abrogate its basic responsibility to help taxpayers with compliance. Reducing the ability to provide customer service is particularly shameless.

For all the complaints about lack of budget funds, the Weekly Standard made note of a particular irony: “The IRS’s total annual $11 billion budget is dwarfed by the amount of improper tax payments it makes each year. According to the report, the IRS paid out $17.7 billion in improper Earned Income Tax Credit payments (which are supposed to help poor and low-income individuals) and an additional $6 to $7 billion in improper child tax credit payments.”

That’s double the amount of the entire IRS budget paid out to taxpayers incorrectly. Perhaps if the same amount of diligence the IRS took when targeting conservatives was paid to processing tax returns properly, there wouldn’t be such whining from the IRS Commissioner. And maybe some more phone calls would be answered.