Spending deal sets IRS priorities
The omnibus appropriations bill passed Thursday by Congress includes a number of priorities and directives for the Internal Revenue Service.
The spending bill, which funds the government through the end of September, includes $11.2 billion for the IRS, including money for the Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program, Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Of the $206 million designated for the Taxpayer Advocate Service, at least $5 million is reserved for identity theft cases.
Funding is also provided for tax enforcement, including criminal investigations and Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement programs. The bill also includes funding for taxpayer services and enforcement programs, including IRS-wide administration activities, research and statistics of income, information technology development and the operations of the IRS Oversight Board. The IRS is required to include in its budget justification for fiscal year 2018 a summary of the cost and schedule performance information for its major IT systems. The bill also includes $290 million for the IRS’s business systems modernization program, though the IRS has to provide quarterly reports on the costs and scheduled performance of its CADE 2 (Customer Account Data Engine) and Modernized e-File systems, detailing the reasons and costs for any schedule variances.
The IRS is also required by the appropriations bill to maintain an employee training program, including training on taxpayer rights, dealing courteously with taxpayers, cross-cultural relations, ethics and the impartial application of the tax laws. The bill also requires the IRS to institute and enforce policies and procedures to safeguard the confidentiality of taxpayer information and protect taxpayers against identity theft.
Funds were also made available for improving IRS facilities and staffing to provide “sufficient and effective” toll-free help to taxpayers. “The Commissioner shall continue to make improvements to the Internal Revenue Service 1-800 help line service a priority and allocate resources necessary to enhance the response time to taxpayer communications, particularly with regard to victims of tax-related crimes,” said the bill. However, none of the funds are to be used to produce videos (such as the notorious Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island parodies that were created for IRS training programs several years ago) unless “the Service-Wide Video Editorial Board determines in advance that making the video is appropriate, taking into account the cost, topic, tone and purpose of the video.”
Funding for the IRS would remain at 2016 levels, but wouldn’t allow the agency to recover from several years of budget cuts during which the agency lost nearly 18,000 permanent employees, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.
“Again, level funding is better than massive cuts, but it is insufficient to allow the IRS to meet its taxpayer service and enforcement challenges and to begin rebuilding its decimated workforce,” said NTEU national president Tony Reardon in a statement. “This is not a sustainable budget situation for the agency that is responsible for bringing in 93 percent of the money needed to fund the entire government.”