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East County News Service

April 8, 2015 (San Diego)—Federal income taxes are due on April 15th. But millions of taxpayers trying to get questions answered from the Internal Revenue Service are finding frustration instead.

Five years of Congressional budget slashing have left the agency severely understaffed.  The Washington Post reports that so far this year, 5 million callers have been automatically disconnected when a toll-free help line for the IRS became overloaded.

Nationwide, only 40 percent of callers have been able to reach an actual person – and then only to find that customer service agents can only offer information on getting tax forms – not technical advice about your tax situation, or how you can arrange payments.

Even IRS Commissioner John Koskinken admits that customer service is “abysmal,” AP reports.

Ironically, despite the federal deficit, eliminating 5,000 agents at the IRS means $2 billion in revenues owed to the government won’t be collected, the IRS estimates. It’s a tax cheater’s paradise.

So who’s to blame? Since 2010, Republicans in Congress have gutted the IRS budget by $1.2 billion, or about 17 percent, in part as retaliation for the perceived targeting of conservative nonprofits claiming tax exemptions for political activities.

At a Congressional hearing, Rep.. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) admitted,  “We deliberately lowered IRS funding to a level that will make the IRS think twice about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

The cuts come at a particularly bad time for the IRS, which is required to help assure compliance with the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies and battle an increase in identity theft.  Yet despite the cuts, the agency has become more efficient by one measure, processing 11 percent more returns than before the budget axe fell.

The cuts have led to frustration among many taxpayers, who wait in hours-long lines at IRS customer service centers, all to often leaving without being able to get questions answered or concerns cleared up as the tax deadline looms.