When writing checks to the Internal Revenue Service, taxpayers might wish Uncle Sam had a much smaller appetite. Yet they know that putting him on a severe diet means Sam can’t get his job done.

The diet Congress has imposed on the IRS means taxpayers not only have to pay up, but they also have to put up with additional hassles. Cuts to IRS staff mean cuts in service to taxpayers.

That’s the message Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, delivered to a House Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday. She described an agency with stark declines in customer service.

“From January first through February 14th this year, the IRS answered only 43 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers seeking to speak with a customer service representative, and those taxpayers who managed to get through sat on hold an average of about 28 minutes,” she said. “By comparison, during the same period last year, 77 percent of taxpayers got through and waited on hold an average of about 10 minutes. The IRS is now only answering the most basic of tax-law questions through April 15, and none after that. And it is no longer preparing tax returns for the most vulnerable taxpayer populations: elderly, disabled and low-income.

“This performance decline is huge and results from a combination of more work and reduced resources,” Olson said.

Read more in the Federal Diary.