Under sequestration, IRS workforce declined by 6K

Monday - 3/24/2014, 12:57pm EDT

Under the squeeze of sequestration, the size of the Internal Revenue Service's workforce contracted by nearly 6,000 employees, according to new IRS data

At the end of fiscal 2013, the IRS workforce stood at 83,613 employees — the fewest number in more than decade. That's also 5,938 fewer employees than the agency had on board at the end of fiscal 2012, according to data published in the IRS Data Book, a compendium of internal agency statistics released annually.

Among the largest staffing declines are those in taxpayer assistance positions, which had about 3,300 fewer positions at the end of fiscal 2013 than the year before.

"We are seeing the results of these reductions in staffing, particularly in customer service, all across the country this filing season," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union in a statement Friday.

The IRS currently projects it will only be able to answer 61 percent of phone calls this year, meaning some 20 million phone calls will go unanswered, according to January 2014 report from the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson. Average phone wait times are approaching 20 minutes.

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Overall, since 2010, staffing has fallen by more than 10,000 employees and the agency's budget has been slashed by nearly $1 billion.

While sequestration was damaging to many agencies in 2013, Congress reduced the size of those cuts for most agencies this year and next. That was not the case with the IRS. In the aftermath of the tax-exempt targeting scandal and a multimillion conference spending scandal, Congress opted to keep in place most of the sequestration-related cuts to IRS.

The White House's proposed 2015 budget, on the other hand, calls for $12.5 billion for the agency — $1.2 billion more than the current spending level — to fund customer-service improvements and to boost funding for employee training.

The funding level in the administration's budget is a "good first step," NTEU's Kelley said.

"It is critically important to rebuild IRS staffing so help is available for taxpayers who are trying to navigate the complex tax code and be compliant," she said in the statement.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, confirmed to head the embattled agency last December, told Congress he's concerned continued budget cuts could imperil IRS customer service and other operations.

Last year, according to the data book, the agency processed more than 240 million tax returns and collected nearly $2.9 trillion in revenue. However, due to the budget crunch, the number of audits performed by the IRS in 2013, a key enforcement tool, dropped 5 percent from the previous year to about 1.4 million — the lowest since fiscal 2008.

But Koskinen said despite the cuts, the agency remains committed to making improvements.

"While we have limited resources, we will continue to look for ways to find savings and efficiencies wherever we can," Koskinen said in a letter prefacing the most recent data book installment. "The entire IRS workforce is focused on making improvements and helping taxpayers."

Koskinen is set to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Wednesday on the agency's response to the targeting scandal.

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