A standard dejection in the IRS help line

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from The Washington Post,

With Tax Day approaching … Five years of budget cuts by Congress have left the agency so cash-strapped that Commissioner John Koskinen doesn’t bother sugarcoating the state of customer service. “It’s abysmal,” he said.

Nationwide, only 4 in 10 callers to the agency’s toll-free help line are getting through to a real person. The number of “courtesy disconnects” — a euphemism for an overloaded system hanging up on the customer — has reached 5 million so far this year, the agency reported.

When callers do get a real person, they can forget about asking questions that require expertise. These are now considered “out of scope.” The customer-service agents have been instructed to only tell callers what tax forms they need, where to get them and where to look for online information. Staff can no longer offer line-by-line assistance, provide guidance on tax planning or tax law, or help make payment arrangements.

And with 5,000 fewer agents than four years ago to go after tax cheats, officials estimate that $2 billion in revenue will go uncollected.

At the Dallas tax assistance center, there’s an empty space where the office printer sat before it was yanked out. The maintenance contract was too expensive. The shelves in the Forms Room are mostly bare. The 40-page P-17, the bible of tax-return preparation, now costs $23 and must be ordered online.

Since 2010, Republicans on Capitol Hill have slashed the IRS budget by $1.2 billion, or about 17 percent, adjusting for inflation. Just this fiscal year, $346 million was cut.

By contrast, cuts across the rest of the government have been far more modest and concentrated. Between 2012 and 2014, automatic spending reductions shrank non-defense spending, as adjusted for inflation, by 1.3 percent, while IRS spending was chopped 5.6 percent, according to Scott Lilly, a budget expert at the Center for American Progress.

Even in an era of shrinking government, conservatives’ antipathy toward the tax-collection agency stands out. It is punishment for a string of missteps: an extravagant conference for employees in Anaheim, Calif., the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exemptions, $1 million in bonuses given to agency employees who didn’t pay their federal taxes.

“We deliberately lowered IRS funding to a level that will make the IRS think twice about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.)

“I think taxpayers and their representatives need to think long and hard about throwing more money at an agency that has proven that it persistently mismanages and wastes the money they have gotten in the past,” [Leslie Paige, vice president for policy and communications at Citizens Against Government Waste] said.

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