A recent congressional report demonstrates anew just how dismissive, spiteful and rogue the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has become when dealing with the very people who pay for its existence: The American taxpayer.
According to a report by majority Republicans on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, “Doing Less with Less: IRS’s Spending Decisions Hurt Taxpayers,” fewer than half of taxpayers who attempted to contact the agency with a question about taxes this year did not get a response.
In fact, the IRS itself estimated that it could only answer 17 million of the 49 million calls it received this tax-filing season; those lucky enough to get through spent an average of 34.4 minutes waiting for help, or nearly double the 18.7 minutes during the previous year’s tax-filing season.
John Koskinen, the career Washington bureaucrat currently “managing” the IRS, blamed the tax agency’s “abysmal” customer service on congressional budget cuts. Admittedly, funding is down $1.2 billion from its peak in 2010.
Tens of millions in bonuses
However, the congressional report points the finger of blame at the agency itself; funding remained flat from 2014 to 2015, but the IRS diverted some $134 million away from customer service to fund other activities.
As reported by the Weekly Standard:
In addition to the $11 billion appropriated by Congress, the IRS takes in more than $400 million in user fees and may allocate that money as it sees fit. In 2014, the IRS allocated $183 million in user fees to its customer service budget, but allocated just $49 million in 2015 – a 76 percent cut.
“Our low service levels were the result of the budget cuts we have had to absorb. Funding for the agency has been reduced by $1.2 billion over the last five years, dropping to $10.9 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015,” said Koskinen in written testimony before the committee. “The IRS is now at its lowest level of funding since 2008. If adjusted for inflation, the agency’s budget is now comparable to where it was in 1998, except that this year we will process an estimated 27 million more returns than we did 17 years ago.”
But the report went onto to note that Koskinen reinstated bonuses weeks after his appointment, has allowed IRS employees to spend about 500,000 work hours on union activities, and has failed to collect delinquent taxes owed by federal employees.
Also, the report ripped the IRS for funding inappropriate activities, including “extravagant” employee conferences – one of which cost $4.1 million; a “Star Trek”-themed training video that cost $60,000 to produce; and the targeting of Tea Party-aligned groups for extra scrutiny.
At the same time, the agency made a 73 percent reduction in user fees allocated to customer service and a 6 percent decrease in total funding for taxpayer assistance; the bonuses awarded to employees amounted to about $60 million and came “at a time when the IRS did not yet know what its budget would be for fiscal year 2015.” In total, the report said, the IRS estimated it spent around $5 million on educational videos.
In addition, notes the Weekly Standard, the IRS has also been strained by Obamacare; according to the panel’s report, the agency has spent “over $1.2 billion on the President’s health care law to date, with a planned expenditure this year of an additional $500 million.”
Also, the tax agency’s $11 billion budget, the report found, is dwarfed by the $17-plus billion in inappropriate Earned Income Tax Credit payments, as well as an addition $6 to $7 billion in improper child tax credit payments.
The report noted that Congress reduced the agency’s budget due to “blatant misconduct,” an attempt to force managers to live within their means. Instead, it appears as though Koskinen preferred to reward IRS employees and managers while punishing taxpayers.
It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and get rid of an agency that has turned hostile towards taxpayers; a flat tax or “FAIR” tax would be much easier to calculate and pay, requiring a much smaller collection apparatus.