The IRS Is Not Here to Help You
The agency will punish tax filers for its own stonewalling.
Jan. 15, 2015 7:26 p.m. ET
Hard to believe, but the Internal Revenue Service says its customer service is about to get worse. Commissioner John Koskinen wrote to employees this week: “We now anticipate an even lower level of telephone service than before, which raises the real possibility that fewer than half of taxpayers trying to call us will actually reach us.”
John Koskinen, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service Photo: Bloomberg
A new report from the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson suggests that the odds of some taxpayers getting satisfactory answers could literally be zero. A press release from her office says that during this year’s filing season the agency “will not answer any tax-law questions except ‘basic’ ones. After the filing season, it will not answer any tax-law questions at all, leaving the roughly 15 million taxpayers who file later in the year unable to get answers to their questions by calling or visiting IRS offices.”
As a responsible chief executive, President Obama has been aggressively managing this agency crisis to ensure the least disruption for taxpayers most in need. Just kidding. The Olson release also says, “Tax return preparation assistance has been eliminated.”
The IRS is pleading poverty due to recent cuts imposed by Congress, which is frustrated with the agency’s lack of cooperation investigating IRS abuse of conservatives. But while Ms. Olson emphasizes budget cuts in bringing the IRS to this pass, she also cites the agency’s failure to prioritize and the targeting of Tea Party groups that eroded public trust.
From 1997 to 2012 the IRS budget increased 64% to $11.8 billion in nominal dollars. IRS abuse of the President’s philosophical opponents came to light in 2013. Agency stonewalling—plus a less friendly environment for discretionary spending given federal debt of more than $18 trillion—resulted in a new budget of $10.9 billion. So now the agency is cutting key services and threatening delayed refunds as it pressures Congress to re-open the budget spigot.
If the IRS continues to stonewall the political targeting investigation, as Mr. Koskinen has, then the only tool Congress has to express disapproval is the power of the purse. In any case it’s hard to imagine the IRS could offer worse service than it already does.