The Treasury Department has updated the contingency plans for the Internal Revenue Service to handle the expected federal government shutdown.

The updated document describes how the IRS will handle the filing season, which is supposed to begin on Monday, January 29. The IRS is already under pressure to implement the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Congress passed last month, and it is dealing with a series of budget cuts in recent years that have led to staffing shortages.

“If the IRS is confronted by a lapse in appropriations during the 2018 Tax Filing Season (Jan. 1–April 30, 2018) the IRS will need to continue return processing activities to the extent necessary to protect government property, which includes tax revenue, and maintain the integrity of the federal tax collection process, along with certain other activities authorized under the Anti-Deficiency Act,” said the updated contingency plan. “Accordingly, in a shutdown during the filing season, the IRS must except additional positions beyond those identified in the Non-Filing Season Plan. In the event the lapse extends beyond five (5) business days, the Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support will direct the Human Capital Officer to reassess ongoing activities and identify necessary adjustments of excepted positions and personnel.”

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

An IRS spokesperson declined to comment Friday on how the agency will be dealing with the shutdown beyond the contingency plan, which the Treasury Department posted to its website Wednesday. But the document includes some indication of how the IRS will deal with both tax practitioners and taxpayers.

“The Director, Communications & Liaison (C&L), Chief, Corporate & Executive Communications and Chief, Communications Support Services will oversee and manage the strategic filing season communication activities as well as provide guidance to taxpayers and tax practitioners as necessary to support all excepted activity during the shutdown,” said the document. “This includes but is not limited to electronic filing, fraud detection/deterrence/prevention; processing of returns including those with remittances; develop and apply new approaches to targeting and reaching program customers; oversee the development and implementation of the strategic communications plan for filing season; assist Service-wide C&L with guidance to taxpayers via media outlets, assist W&I Commissioner and Director, Capital Management & Oversight with actions necessary to shut down and recall; and fulfill Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) responsibilities to ensure continuity of communications; and (1) – The Chief, Program Communications will be on call as needed to support the above activities.”

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS and Treasury employees, pointed out that the IRS has lost $900 million in funding and nearly 21,000 full-time employees since 2010. It noted that the largest overhaul to the Tax Code in three decades needs implementation, but many IRS employees would be sent home in a shutdown. The Treasury estimates that 56 percent of the workforce would be furloughed, though the NTEU pointed to the government shutdown in 2013, when 87 percent of the IRS workforce was sent home, albeit not during tax season.

“If ... this important work is delayed, I hope people call Congress and the administration to complain, because that is who will be at fault, not federal workers,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon in a statement.

House Republicans voted Thursday night to approve a continuing resolution that would provide some additional funding to prevent a government shutdown, but Senate Democrats are not yet on board with the proposal because it doesn’t provide protection for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. President Trump signed an executive order last year that would end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA, program in March, and left it to Congress to find a legislative solution. Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Friday afternoon to discuss the impasse, but Schumer indicated after the meeting that while they made progress during the talks, there was still no deal to avert a shutdown.

The Senate failed to pass the continuing resolution on Friday night, and the federal government shutdown officially took effect at midnight. Talks continued over the weekend among Democrats and Republicans in hopes of reaching a deal before Monday morning, when the shutdown's impact on government activities would begin to be seriously felt.

According to Bloomberg News, "the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, will send home more than 83 percent of its 88,268 workers. About 1,000 employees will stay in place to manage debt, monitor domestic and international financial markets and policy coordination. Another 2,800 workers are exempt from the shutdown to avoid any disruptions with debt borrowing functions, debt collection, investment, debt accounting and Social Security disbursements. At the IRS, tax refunds could take longer, depending how long the shutdown lasts. The agency lists work related to issuing refunds among tasks that won’t be excepted from the shutdown. But it wasn’t expecting to begin accepting 2017 tax returns until Jan. 29. Other IRS functions to be suspended include audits, non-automated collections and processing 1040X amended returns, according to a contingency plan dated Jan. 17. An IRS spokesman had no comment on how a shutdown would affect implementation of the new tax law."

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.