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National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins offered suggestions on how the Internal Revenue Service should spend the $80 billion in additional funding it received from Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law earlier this year.

In the first of two blog posts on the subject posted September 14, 2022, Collins focused on the immediate needs of the agency.

She wrote that before the IRS moves forward in plans to improve its overall operations, "it is imperative that it fulfills its core filing season mission by eliminating the backlog of unprocessed original and amended paper-filed tax returns, pay all pending refunds, and work through its backlog of overaged correspondence."

To achieve this, she outlined the following recommendations:

  • Hire or re-assign employees to process the backlog of paper-filed tax returns and correspondence;
  • Hire enough employees to answer 85 percent of taxpayer phone calls and institute “customer callback” technology on all toll-free lines;
  • Improve services for taxpayer professionals;
  • Continue to suspend automated collection notices until the backlog is eliminated; and
  • Hire enough employees to fully staff Taxpayer Assistance Centers and extend walk-in capabilities.

The recommendations preceded remarks made by Department of the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on September 15, 2022, in which she highlighted a number of these recommendations as priorities for the IRS, including fully staffing Taxpayer Assistance Centers and improving call center service levels.

Longer Term Recommendations

In her second blog post on the subject, posted September 15, 2022, Collins focused more on long-term initiatives the IRS can embark on to improve the taxpayer experience.

The recommendations ranged from the basic, such as hiring more human resource employees and ensuring proper training for all IRS employees to updating antiquated information technology infrastructure, improving transparency and issuing clear notices and guidance.

On the IT side, Collins’ recommendation topics touched on some of the usual suspects, including improving online functionality and access to tax records and automating the scanning process for paper filings. She also called for implementing technology to allow taxpayers and tax professionals to upload documents for auditors, as well as improving the readability of transcripts, and enabling all taxpayers to have the ability to electronically file their tax returns.

Other technology recommendations include improving the voicebots and chatbots as well as overhauling the IRS website to make it more user-friendly.

In the area of improving transparency, Collins noted that during the 2020 and 2021 filing seasons, the IRS "failed to provide weekly reports proving tax return processing timeframes so that taxpayers would know what to expect when they filed their returns or submitted correspondence. This lack of proactive transparency and timely information left taxpayers confused and frustrated, reaching for the phones, searching the Internet, and looking for tax professionals to help."

As for improving notices and guidance, Collins noted that despite improvements over the years, "some critical notices remain confusing and vague, and don’t provide taxpayers with adequate IRS contact information. In some cases, the IRS limits the number of characters and works in its notices."

She noted that under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that taxpayers have the right to be informed. If the IRS knows something, "it needs to timely, accurately, and clearly say it," Collins wrote."Failure to do so may well lead to more complications and problems for taxpayers, requiring additional time and resources by taxpayers, tax professionals, and the IRS to resolve them."

Finally, Collins called for an increase to the Taxpayer Advocate Service funding, noting that its "case advocacy operations are already stretched thin, and we will need to hire additional employees if the IRS ramps up its compliance activities, as that inevitably will lead to more TAS cases."

"IRS leaders often tell us they agree with our recommendations in concept, but they lack the resources to implement them," Collins wrote in the second blog post. "With the supplemental funding it has received, these initiatives can now be undertaken."