The Internal Revenue Service is fast turning into a rude robotic agency offering little human communication with taxpayers even during nail-biting audits, according to a scathing new report from the National Taxpayer Advocate.
But advocate Nina Olson said in her 2013 report to Congress said that it’s not all the fault of the taxman. She said Congress bears some responsibility for limiting funding and dilly-dallying with tax laws like the alternative minimum tax until the last minute, a yearly phenomenon that delays refunds.
“Taxpayer’s patience is being sorely tested,” said Olson.
Her report slams the reality of the new IRS: like businesses, the agency has become much more automated, greatly reducing the chance a taxpayer will ever interact with a tax agent, even during an audit.
For example, a year ago 74 percent of taxpayers who called the IRS talked to a human. This year’s target is 61 percent. In 2010 a caller would be on hold for about 10 minutes. This year the goal is 18 minutes. Staffing and hours at taxpayer assistance centers are down.
The shift to automation is especially noticeable in audits, where the advocate said the IRS is being forced to deal with “growing responsibilities and shrinking examination resources.” As with email or automated calls, the advocated said that the computerized approach confuses taxpayers. She noted that the IRS in fiscal 2011 made 12,660,956 mostly automated contacts that “taxpayers might regard as examinations.” But in reality only 1,564,690 were.
And even “real audits” have become automated, often turning a simple error into a big deal. Her report said that when tax adjusters and taxpayers talk, problems are usually fixed or avoided.
“Automated procedures are more likely to produce inaccurate over-assessments, particularly for taxpayers who have literacy challenges or lack representation. They may also diminish end-to-end accountability by IRS employees, generate rework, burden, and other hidden costs, and leave many taxpayers unsatisfied.”