The Internal Revenue Service is eliminating the extended weekday hours, Saturday and President’s Day availability of its e-help desk service due to budget cuts.
“Due to budget restrictions, extended weekday hours, Saturday and President’s Day service is no longer available,” the IRS wrote in an email to tax professionals Friday. “The e-help desk page on IRS.gov lists the current hours of service. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”
The e-help desk assists tax professionals such as enrolled agents, reporting agents, electronic return originators, CPAs, software developers and transmitters with non-account related questions and issues concerning e-products.
The hours for the help desk, at 1-866-255-0654, are now 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM Central time on Monday through Friday during tax season. The IRS opened its Free File service on Friday and will begin accepting electronically filed tax returns next Tuesday (see IRS Braces for Start of Tax-Filing Season).
The IRS was able to start tax season on time this year for the first time in three years, as it did not have to deal with the aftereffects of the October 2012 government shutdown or the last-minute extension of the Bush tax cuts. However, the IRS is dealing with another round of budget cuts for the fifth year in a row, even though it will have expanded responsibilities this year to deal with Affordable Care Act and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA.
IRS commissioner John Koskinen has warned that the IRS may need to furlough workers for a few days later in the year after tax season is over to absorb the budget cuts. The IRS is also reducing its use of overtime and extending a hiring freeze, as well as closing its overseas tax assistance centers (see IRS Will Shut Overseas Tax-Assistance Centers as Budget Shrinks).
Congress approved a $10.9 billion budget for the IRS, meaning the agency will have to absorb a cut of $346 million during the remaining nine months of the fiscal year. Koskinen has noted that really amounts to a total reduction of about $600 million when another $250 million in mandated costs and inflation are counted, making it the lowest level of funding for the IRS since 2008, and the lowest since 1998 when inflation is considered (see IRS Commissioner Warns Tax Refunds Could Be Delayed by Budget Cuts).
“We’re going to provide as much support to the call centers as we can during the filing season, but try to call us before April 15 because, to deal with the budget cuts it’s going to be much harder to get hold of us afterwards, because the seasonals [employees] that we always hire are not going to be able to work during the summer as they normally would,” he said on a conference call with reporters Friday. “To cut in effect $610 million out of a budget in nine months with 72 percent of the budgeted people, you have no choice but to end up with fewer people. And that means you have no choice but to end up with lower levels of taxpayer service and lower levels of enforcement, as well as a significant impact negatively on your ability to upgrade our information technology system.”
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