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If tax season wasn't already aggravating enough, steep budget cuts and reduced staffing including the shedding of more than 900 IRS jobs in Utah alone will mean longer waits for answers to tax questions and delays in processing returns.
Jenny Brown, president of the Ogden chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, said employees have been stretched incredibly thin, to the point they are spending their own money to buy office supplies and call-center workers are unable to answer more than half the calls that come in.
"It's affected them drastically," she said. "We're down to less than 40 percent of the calls we get that we can answer and, you know, taxpayers, when they call, they're angry because they can't get through and they have to wait so long and I understand that, and you know we get frustrated, too. … The taxpayer wants us to do something that we're no longer allowed to do to help them."
After waiting, sometimes for an hour or more on hold, Brown said, a recording will come on and tell the taxpayer to call back later and disconnect them.
During a speech Wednesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency has lost 13,000 employees since 2010 and could, through attrition, lose another 3,000 by October of this year.
"You might think that shrinking an agency would force it to do more with less," he said, according to prepared remarks. "But after five years of budget cuts, and a hiring freeze that has lasted four years, people need to understand that the IRS is going to have to do less with less."
Since 2011, Utah has lost 923 employees, nearly 14 percent of the state's IRS workforce, according to statistics from the NTEU. Nationally, the IRS budget has been cut by $1.2 billion, while the number of tax returns filed has increased by 7 million.
"A big part of our job is to help the taxpayers be compliant and understand these tax laws and we're not able to do that," Brown said. "We're telling them they have to get online or hire a CPA and there are a lot of people who don't have the money to hire a CPA or who are elderly and don't have a computer."
Val Oveson, who was the National Taxpayer Advocate for the IRS from 1998 to 2000 and now is an accountant in Utah, said he has seen the practical impacts of the budget cuts when he's preparing his clients' returns.
"We're seeing it day-to-day. We're seeing the other side of that in terms of not getting calls answered and waiting on the phone. You typically wait anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to an hour-and-a-half," Oveson said. "Then you add to that the Affordable Care Act issues, where the IRS has been given greater responsibility for areas that really take greater customer-service interface and it's a real problem."
Oveson said he doesn't expect the trend to change, at least during this administration.
The IRS is suffering from a scandal where it was accused of targeting conservative-leaning nonprofits and attempting to cover up its activities.
"In the future, the IRS needs to go through a process of rehabilitation," Oveson said. "Right now, they're still suffering from the last crisis."
Koskinen said the current trajectory is simply unsustainable and is calling on Congress to increase the agency's funding.
He warned that agency underfunding is costing the country billions in uncollected taxes he estimates $2 billion this year alone in exchange for savings in the hundreds of millions.
"A decision to keep underfunding the agency will punish taxpayers, reduce the revenue needed to fund the government, and inject risk into our system of voluntary tax compliance," he said.
IRS workforce cuts
Utah: 6,648 employees in 2011. 5,725 in 2015. 13.9 percent reduction
National: 108,460 in 2011. 90,332 in 2015. 16.7 percent reduction