IRS commissioner to taxpayers: Put the phone down

The new IRS commissioner has a message for taxpayers at the start of the new filing season: Please don’t call us.

John Koskinen, installed as commissioner last month, said Friday that taxpayers with questions about their returns would be best served by going to the IRS website.

The agency, which has seen its budget cut significantly in recent years, only answered around six in 10 customer service phone calls in 2013.

With little extra funding in sight, Koskinen said the best the agency could hope for would be to answer would be 70 percent. Even with that sort of improvement, the commissioner added, millions of phone calls will go unanswered.

“Unfortunately, there will frequently be extensive wait times – much longer than we would like,” Koskinen told reporters on Friday, the day the 2014 filing season opened.

“We’re unhappy,” Koskinen added. “It’s really an intolerable situation.”

Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, noted the problems that the IRS was having in handling customer service calls in her annual report this month, blaming budget cuts for the poor service.

Koskinen has urged lawmakers to give the agency more funding several times in his one month on the job. The agency is scheduled to receive $11.3 billion this fiscal year, well below the almost $13 billion requested by President Obama.

The new commissioner added that the agency has around 8,000 fewer employees than it did in 2010, when it received $12.1 billion.

At the same time, lawmakers have heaped new responsibilities implementing the Affordable Care Act and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, a law that seeks to crack down on tax evasion. Plus, it’s expected to handle some 148 million returns this filing season.

“There is a limit to the level of efficiency you can have,” Koskinen said Friday.