The IRS could do a better job if it had more resources at its disposal. That is the essence of a new report released on April 21 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The GAO conducted the report to (1) analyze IRS funding, staffing, and performance trends for fiscal years (FYs) 2009 through 2014, including an assessment of this year's filing season to date; (2) describe the IRS' budget request and workload for next year; and (3) describe actions by the agency to absorb budget cuts and cite opportunities that could help it better manage operations.
The GAO found that IRS appropriations are at their lowest levels since FY 2009. To compound this problem, the tax collection agency's staff has been reduced by about 8,000 full-time workers during this five-year stretch. Other numbers analyzed by the GAO show a direct link between the IRS' performance and taxpayer services. And, according to the report, things will only get worse before they get better. To wit:
- In FY 2014, the audit coverage target for individual examinations was just 1.0 percent. This target has been lowered even further to 0.8 percent for FY 2015.
- The percentage of callers to the IRS seeking and receiving live assistance was 73 percent from January 1 through March 15, 2014, as compared with 69 percent for the same 2½ months last year. Between FY 2009 and 2013, its telephone level of service fluctuated between 61 percent and 74 percent. Average wait times have almost doubled since FY 2009 from 8.8 minutes to 16.8 minutes as of mid-March 2014.
- Not including other resources (e.g., user fees), the FY 2015 budget request from the IRS is $12.5 billion, an increase of 10.5 percent ($1.2 billion) in funding and 8.3 percent in staffing (6,998 fulltime equivalents) over FY 2014. According to the president's budget plan, $480 million of the requested $1.2 billion is predicated on an adjustment of the discretionary spending limit and applies mainly to enforcement and infrastructure initiatives. But the IRS is facing increased responsibilities under Obamacare and other legislative measures.
- The IRS has seen its budget slashed by approximately $900 million since FY 2013. As a result, it had to delay two information technology projects—the Information Reporting and Document Matching and Return Review Programs—and was forced to scale back employee training.
Although the GAO report acknowledges that budget cuts have hurt the IRS, it isn't looking to extra funding as a panacea. It recommended several ways the IRS could improve its performance, including taking steps to eliminating duplication and developing a long-term plan for improving website services. More details about duplication are cited in a Washington Post article.