Frustrated taxpayers are encountering ever longer wait times on phones when seeking assistance from the Internal Revenue Service as tax season draws to a close, according to the head of the union representing IRS employees.

The declining IRS workforce this tax season is unable to provide adequate service to millions of taxpayers calling on the phone or visiting a walk-in Taxpayer Assistance Center.

The National Treasury Employees Union released data Monday showing state-by-state declines in IRS personnel this year as a result of budget cuts at the hands of Congress.

“Congress created this problem and Congress can fix it by giving the IRS the resources it needs to accomplish its mission,” NTEU national president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement. “Budget cuts for five years—and a resulting hiring freeze—are taking a toll. Taxpayers are suffering and the economy is hurting as a result of these ill-advised cuts. That is the resounding lesson of the 2015 tax-filing season.”

This year, IRS employees have been able to answer fewer than 40 percent of the taxpayer calls that the agency receives. Wait times are longer than ever before at Taxpayer Assistance Centers and getting longer. In a recent speech, IRS commissioner John Koskinen acknowledged that his agency is providing an “abysmal” level of taxpayer service this year and blamed budget cuts. 

Meanwhile, the number of taxpayers keeps growing. Seven million new filers will be added in a six-year period ending Sept. 30. The IRS processes about 150 million returns a year. Call volume is also on the rise; the IRS gets about 100 million calls annually.

Congress has cut the IRS budget by a total of $1.2 billion since fiscal year 2011. The IRS reports that it is now at its lowest level of funding since 2008. When adjusted for inflation, the IRS budget is comparable to the funding it got in 1998.

“It is time to stop punishing taxpayers for previous events,” said Kelley. “The services the IRS provides and the revenue it collects are crucial to ensuring a strong and vibrant American economy.”

The number of IRS employees assigned to answer taxpayer telephone calls fell from 9,400 in FY 2010 to 6,900 in FY 2014—a 26 percent decline. Overall, the IRS has lost more than 18,000 full- and part-time employees since 2011—and could lose thousands more through attrition this year.

Meanwhile, the IRS struggles to combat tax-related identity theft, a growing problem under which criminals use stolen identities to file fake returns and steal refunds owed to honest taxpayers

While the IRS is making progress in cracking down on ID theft, the agency’s enforcement division is hampered from doing more because of personnel shortages, the NTEU leader said. The IRS prevented $24 billion worth of refunds from being handed out to ID theft criminals in 2013. Nevertheless, the agency still sent out $6 billion in refunds to 1 million fraudulently filed returns that year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In January, IRS Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said the IRS was forced to divert 3,000 employees in 2014 to work on ID theft, placing a strain on other IRS programs and services. These are not simple crimes, as the IRS estimates that ID theft cases can take about 120 days to resolve.

“Criminals are growing more sophisticated and are more technologically savvy,” said Kelley. “Congress must help the IRS go on the offensive. Cutting its budget only weakens the agency’s response because it cannot invest in personnel or training, and leaves taxpayers out in the cold.”

The NTEU said it supports the administration’s FY 2016 budget request to Congress, which proposes $12.9 billion for the IRS, an increase of more than $1.9 billion from the current level. Under that proposal, IRS taxpayer services would receive $252 million more in fiscal 2016 than this year and the agency’s enforcement division’s budget would go up by $539 million from this year.

The NTEU noted that the number of IRS employees has fallen sharply in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico since 2011, citing new IRS data.

The data show that full-time and seasonal staff at the agency fell from 108,460 in fiscal year 2011 to 90,322 on Feb. 7, 2015—a decline of 18,138, or 16.7 percent. 

“These state-by-state job-loss numbers show that repeated budget cuts are taking a severe toll on the IRS’ ability to execute its mission in every state,” said Kelley. “Taxpayers across the country are suffering from the loss of assistance by IRS employees and communities are hurt by the loss of jobs.”

Five states with the biggest percentage declines in their IRS workforces (2011-2015):
Montana: 33 percent
Hawaii: 31.8 percent
Wyoming: 30.8 percent
Nebraska: 30.7 percent
Mississippi: 30.4 percent

Five states with the biggest numerical declines in their IRS workforces (2011-2015):
California: 3,039
Georgia: 1,865
Texas: 1,363
Missouri: 1,274
New York: 1,165

IRS Employee Count by State, 2011-2015
The following chart reflects total IRS employees, both full and part-time, at locations across the United States.

STATE

TOTALS

 

 

2011

2013

2015

(as of Feb. 7)

Numerical decline from 2011 to 2015

Percentage decline from 2011 to 2015

AL

411

340

302

109

26.5%

AK

87

73

62

25

28.7%

AZ

730

637

553

177

24.2%

AR

243

213

176

67

27.6%

CA

14,287

12,696

11,248

3039

21.3%

CO

1,274

1,119

972

302

23.7%

CT

564

488

441

123

21.8%

DE

133

101

94

39

29.3%

DC

3,512

3,197

2,999

513

14.6%

FL

3,517

3,238

2,975

542

15.4%

GA

6,376

4,792

4,511

1865

29.3%

HI

154

121

105

49

31.8%

ID

125

112

90

35

28.0%

IL

2,319

2,003

1,701

618

26.6%

IN

922

858

722

200

21.7%

IA

341

265

253

88

25.8%

KS

213

177

168

45

21.1%

KY

5,437

4,918

4,724

713

13.1%

LA

456

386

355

101

22.1%

ME

123

101

93

30

24.4%

MD

5,064

4,940

4,833

231

4.6%

MA

3,371

3,139

2,900

471

14.0%

MI

1,997

1,751

1,559

438

21.9%

MN

663

593

517

146

22.0%

MS

230

181

160

70

30.4%

MO

7,290

6,717

6,016

1274

17.5%

MT

97

76

65

32

33.0%

NE

205

166

142

63

30.7%

NV

404

352

297

107

26.5%

NH

182

168

161

21

11.5%

NJ

1,248

1,092

980

268

21.5%

NM

164

130

119

45

27.4%

NY

7,934

7,178

6,769

1165

14.7%

NC

851

753

696

155

18.2%

ND

82

68

64

18

22.0%

OH

2,222

1,983

1,824

398

17.9%

OK

483

417

363

120

24.8%

OR

756

716

628

128

16.9%

PA

6,486

6,105

5,637

849

13.1%

RI

132

123

117

15

11.4%

SC

288

237

219

69

24.0%

SD

76

63

55

21

27.6%

TN

3,994

3,888

3,740

254

6.4%

TX

10,966

10,214

9,603

1363

12.4%

UT

6,648

6,023

5,725

923

13.9%

VT

76

67

62

14

18.4%

VA

1,203

1,107

1,033

170

14.1%

WA

1,470

1,323

1,198

272

18.5%

WV

1,342

1,291

1,199

143

10.7%

WI

495

416

371

124

25.1%

WY

52

45

36

16

30.8%

PR

718

709

659

59

8.2%

Other*

47

32

31

16

34.0%

US TOTAL

108,460

97,898

90,322

18138

16.7%

           

*: IRS offices in U.S.  possessions (excluding PR) and foreign countries

(Source: Internal Revenue Service)

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