GAO blames 'uneven' IRS performance on budget cuts, staffing decline

Tuesday - 4/22/2014, 9:48am EDT

Budget cuts and a steep drop in the size of the Internal Revenue Service's workforce have resulted in "uneven" performance by the agency, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The IRS' budget, currently about $11.2 billion, is below fiscal 2009 levels. It's also about a $900 million drop from a peak of $12.1 billion in 2012, according to a GAO briefing prepared for members of Congress earlier this month and released by the agency Monday.

In the wake of reduced staff and shrinking budgets, IRS service levels decreased, the agency was forced to delay two major IT projects and spending on employee training was slashed by more than 80 percent, according to GAO.

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The IRS' fiscal 2015 budget seeks $12.5 billion, an increase of 10.5 percent above still-sequestered 2014 levels, which will allow for an 8.3 percent staffing increase.

The largest budget boost would come in the area of operations support, which would grow to $4.5 billion compared to $3.8 billion currently.

The largest staffing increases — measured by the number of full-time equivalents — would go to the agency's enforcement activities, increasing from 42,805 FTEs to 45,757.

However, GAO said additional funding "is not the only solution," and called on the agency to implement several long-term recommendations GAO has made for improving service at the IRS.

GAO recommended the agency come up with a strategy for setting goals for assisting telephone caller and answering taxpayer correspondence. The IRS maintains that it already has such a strategy in place.

"However, in recent years, because IRS has not kept up with the demand for its services we maintain our recommendation is valid; a strategy to reverse the trends may require difficult tradeoffs," the report stated.

GAO also recommended the IRS develop a long-term plan for Web services. IRS officials said they are currently working on a plan and will have it completed by February 2015.

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