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Watchdog: Budget and staffing cuts hurting IRS performance

(Associated Press/J. David Ake)

Budget cuts have resulted in staffing reductions and increasingly uneven performance for the Internal Revenue Service, according to the nonpartisan watchdog arm of Congress.

The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday showing that annual funding for the IRS has declined by about 6.6 percent since fiscal 2010 and that “the resulting imbalance between service and demand has adversely affected operations.”

Total IRS appropriations from Congress totaled about $12.15 billion for fiscal 2010, compared to roughly $11.3 billion for this year.

(Courtesy of GAO)

The report also said IRS performance levels for enforcement and taxpayer services have “decreased or fluctuated” since 2009, during which time the agency lost the equivalent of about 8,000 full-time employees. The GAO found that the average wait time for telephone service has nearly doubled since 2009, rising from 8.8 minutes to 16.8 minutes as of March.

Courtesy of GAO

The findings support claims from the National Treasury Employees Union, which has said that recent austerity measures, including the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, have hindered the IRS’s ability to fulfill its mission.

“Taxpayers’ inability to get the answers they need to understand complex tax issues will almost certainly impact the accuracy of their returns, which could delay refunds to the many taxpayers who depend on their refunds to pay their bills and meet other financial obligations,”  NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement.

President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal asks Congress to fund the IRS at a level of $12.5 billion, which would represent an increase of more than 3 percent compared to this year.

The NTEU has backed Obama’s request. “Without the additional funding proposed in the administration’s [fiscal 2015] budget request, taxpayers will continue experiencing a degradation of services,” Kelley said.

The GAO said additional funding could help the IRS achieve better performance results, but it added that extra money is not the only solution. The report said the agency could improve its financial standing by reducing duplicative and overlapping programs.

In a separate study this year, the GAO identified 82 duplicative or overlapping IRS programs. The watchdog agency said Congress and the IRS have implemented 34 of its recommendations from that analysis.

The GAO sent Monday’s report to the head of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as two other congressional panels with responsibility for overseeing the IRS and tax law. 

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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