A group of congressional representatives has asked the Internal Revenue Service to hold off on plans to shut down 68 of the agency's Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

In a letter dated July 12 and sent to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, nearly 70 representatives said that closing the centers (a plan the IRS officially announced in May), would conflict with Congress' wishes. Language was placed in an appropriations bill approved early this summer by the U.S. House of Representatives requiring the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration to study the "impact that such closures would have on taxpayer compliance" and shared the findings with House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

"Congress must be assured that closing these centers will not have an adverse impact on our constituents who want to comply with the tax laws but need assistance," the letter says.

Pointing to rising use of their Web site, the IRS had said that the closures would save approximately $50 million without severely impacting customer service. But opponents of the plan have also included National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who said that closing the centers could have harmful effects on taxpayer compliance.

The letter was sent less than a week before the Senate is scheduled to begin making its own IRS funding proposal. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Treasury appropriations bill to provide the IRS with $10.5 billion in fiscal year 2006. The bill easily won passage after representatives rejected other contentious amendments, the first barring corporate expatriates from competing for federal contracts, and a second halting IRS plans to outsource debt collection.

In selecting the 68 facilities on the list, the IRS looked at five factors: location, employee costs, facilities costs, workload and demographics. Of the 2,300 employees who operate the centers across the nation, about 450 employees work in the centers slated to close.

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