National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service at the Internal Revenue Service, decried the plummeting levels of customer service at the IRS in a recent speech.

During a speech at the California Tax Bar and California Tax Policy Conference in San Jose, Calif., earlier this month, Olson offered a sneak peek of her annual report to Congress, criticizing the difficulty of getting help by phone or letter, according to Tax Analysts. In the last week of October, for example, the percentage of telephone callers who were able to reach a live person at the IRS was an abysmal 39 percent.

“That means that two-thirds of taxpayers who were trying to get live contact could not get through,” she pointed out.

Trying to reach the IRS by letter is also difficult, with large proportions of unanswered correspondence.
Olson blamed persistent budget cuts that have devastated the level of assistance that the IRS can provide, along with technology that has automated the system to the point that tax levies are automatically put on taxpayers’ accounts. Then they can’t reach anyone at the IRS to help them reclaim their funds if they have been penalized unfairly.

“If you can't get through on the phone, what happens?” she asked. “The money goes out the door, from the taxpayer's point of view. Then they have to keep trying to get through to the IRS to get that money back. This is what we're doing with individual taxpayers in tax administration today, and I don't know how long we can keep doing that to people until they start walking with their feet and go underground.”

She also pointed out that the IRS will not be providing free tax preparation services for the poor, elderly and disabled at its free walk-in clinics as of January 1, making it the only industrialized country that doesn’t offer such services to taxpayers.

Tax Analysts has further excerpts from Olson’s speech, ahead of what promises to be an eye-opening report to Congress.