GAO: IRS misleads audited taxpayers

The IRS tells taxpayers facing an audit that it’ll get back to them quickly and then often falls short of that goal, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

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GAO said that the IRS has “misled taxpayers by providing unrealistic time frames” — saying it would get back to audited taxpayers within 30 to 45 days.

In fact, the watchdog says the IRS consistently takes several months to respond to correspondence audits, which are done through the mail and account for about three-quarters of the audits conducted by the tax agency.

In all, GAO says that the IRS is behind on more than 50 percent of the correspondence that taxpayers send in to deal with audits.

That misleading time frame that the IRS circulates for audits hurts both taxpayers and agency staffers, according to the report.

Taxpayers, for instance, often can’t get their refunds until an audit is finished.

IRS staffers, meanwhile, have to deal with extra phone calls because taxpayers are told to expect a response before the agency can reasonably offer one. Those staffers say they often have few answers for taxpayers wondering when the IRS will respond.

The IRS agreed to implement the GAO’s recommendations, which push the agency to better document how quickly it can get back to audited taxpayers and to give those taxpayers a more accurate timeline.

But a top IRS official also suggested that the budget cuts the agency has absorbed in recent years played a role in the unrealistic timeline for audited taxpayers.

“It is important to note that reductions in the IRS budget have stretched enforcement resources across the agency,” said John Dalrymple, the IRS’s deputy commissioner for services and enforcement.