House bill raises tension with IRS, lowers funding

Monday - 6/23/2014, 3:43pm EDT

Listen to Colleen Kelley's interview on In Depth.

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By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

The proposed budget for the Internal Revenue Service adds fuel to the fire between the agency and Congress.

The House passed its version of the financial services bill June 17 that would bring funding for the collection agency below sequestration levels and cut more than $300 million from this year's budget.

"It would be a disaster for taxpayers," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employee Union, in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose. "The services that they expect, that they need from the IRS in order to file their tax returns and be compliant with the law — those services cannot be provided at the level the taxpayers need."

Kelley said the IRS already has suffered from the budget cuts that have come with sequestration. She said customer service has been down, with more than 20 million unanswered calls last year.

Additionally, Kelley said the number of IRS workers is way down and needs to be rebuilt.

The IT budget has become crucial as taxpayers turn to online methods because of IRS staff shortage.

The IRS has lost 10,000 employees over the last three years, Kelley said. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is setting up more efficient systems for employees, and Kelley said she looks forward to the changes, but more funding still is necessary.

"Even with doing the work better," she said, "they still need more employees and more staffing, and we're never going to rebuild that over the next one year or two years. It is going to take a number of years to rebuild that workforce of 10,000 they've lost."

Kelley said she expects the Senate's version of the appropriations bill to be higher, but she's not sure whether it will be enough. According to the Treasury, for every one dollar used by the IRS, it returns four, Kelley said. She also said the agency brings in 93 percent of the government's total revenue.

"Every other agency suffers when the IRS is not funded to bring in that revenue," Kelley said.

The House budget bill only adds to the heat between IRS and Congress, as the collection service still cannot produce former IRS official Lois Lerner's emails from 2009 to 2011.

The Committee of Oversight Reform sent a letter on June 16 reminding Koskinen of the request for Lerner's emails from more than a year ago. The IRS told the committee June 13 that it lost those files.

"Old and useless binders of information are still stored and maintained on federal agency shelves. Official records, like the emails of a prominent official, don't just disappear without a trace unless that was the intention," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, stated on Thursday.

Koskinen will testify before the committee Monday, where he faces questions on the IRS' email problems, including its data retention policies and document production processes.

Issa sent Koskinen a list of 15 technology related questions to review before his testimony to the committee.

The committee asks Koskinen to explain the failure of the hard drive, which caused the emails to be destroyed, with specific information on type of malfunction, time and the employees involved. The committee also asked that he explain how the IRS discovered the failure. The questions also cover IRS' policies for storing data and information stored on Lerner's hard drive.

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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