The head of the union representing Internal Revenue Service employees is warning about persistent underfunding of the Internal Revenue Service in the omnibus spending bill unveiled yesterday by congressional negotiators.

The National Treasury Employees Union cautioned Tuesday that the omnibus appropriations measure released by House and Senate negotiators for the balance of fiscal 2014 will set the stage for another difficult year for the IRS after budget cuts last year imposed by the budget sequester. Democratic and Republican budget negotiators have agreed on a $1.1 trillion budget for the rest of the fiscal year to avert the automatic spending cuts imposed last year by the budget sequester to avoid another government shutdown and uncertainty this year.

But the head of the labor union noted that the continued funding cuts to the IRS will make it difficult for the agency to meet taxpayer needs this year, as a report to Congress released last week by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson also warned (see Taxpayer Advocate Calls for Taxpayer Bill of Rights). The appropriations bill will cut IRS funding by approximately $526 million to $11.3 billion, below its 2009 level. The bill also prohibits the IRS from targeting any citizens or groups based on ideology.

“Continued underfunding of the IRS means refunds will be delayed, taxpayers will sit on hold and tax help will be available to fewer and fewer Americans,” said NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley in a statement. “While the appropriations bill is a nominal improvement over another full year Continuing Resolution at current levels, it is woefully inadequate to allow agencies to deliver the critical services taxpayers expect and deserve. Sequestration must end for the good of the nation.”

The bill also provides a pay increase of 1 percent for employees under the wage grade system, a provision that the NTEU supports after several years of a wage freeze for federal employees.

“Wage grade employees are among those most in need of this pay increase,” said Kelley.

The appropriations bill includes a nominal increase for the IRS over last year’s post-sequester levels, the NTEU acknowledged. The impact of those cuts and sequestration forced the agency to shut down virtually all its operations for three days last year, resulting in multiple difficulties for taxpayers, particularly those seeking assistance, the NTEU noted.

“In the face of severe budget cuts and reduced personnel in recent years, what is needed is a true investment in the IRS, not more of the same,” said Kelley.

Since 2010, IRS funding and staffing have been cut by 8 percent, despite a steady increase in the agency’s workload, the NTEU pointed out. Overall, from budget cuts and sequestration, IRS funding has been reduced by approximately $1 billion over the past three years, leading to a decline of more than 8,000 employees.

The NTEU noted that the Obama administration had proposed a budget increase for the IRS this year.

“The White House had it right when it proposed a fiscal 2014 budget of $12.8 billion for the IRS,” said Kelley. “This agency collects 93 percent of all government revenue. It is the linchpin for the entire government, and it must have sufficient resources and staffing to do this critical job effectively.”

Last week, National Taxpayer Advocate Olson’s report to Congress described the toll that underfunding and insufficient IRS staffing has been taking on taxpayers. The report noted that the IRS was able to answer only 61 percent of calls from taxpayers seeking assistance from a customer service representative, leaving 20 million taxpayers unable to get through to the IRS on the phone. Olson’s report also pointed to an increase in telephone wait times from 2.6 minutes a decade ago to 17.6 minutes in 2013. In addition, there was an 86 percent drop in the number of tax law questions answered, from 795,000 a decade ago to only 110,000 in the 2013 filing season.

In addition, the report identified a cut of 87 percent, from $172 million in 2010 to just $22 million last year in employee training. At the same time, the number of individual tax returns grew from 131.4 million in fiscal 2004 to approximately 146 million in fiscal year 2013, an increase of about 11 percent, with about one-third of it having occurred since fiscal 2010.