Union: IRS needs more funding for more taxpayer assistants

A federal employee union is using the drop in staffing levels at the IRS to make its case that the agency needs more funding.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees, noted Friday that newly released internal statistics show that the agency dropped 6,000 employees last year, more than half of them coming from taxpayer assistance positions.

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Even before those figures were released, John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner, had complained that staffing challenges were hurting the agency's ability to answer telephone help lines. 

Colleen Kelley, the NTEU president, said in a Friday statement that "both taxpayers and employees" are frustrated by the current situation. 

“Taxpayers are shocked, frustrated and angry to find out that vital service is no longer available,” Kelley said. 

“It is a critically important to rebuild IRS staffing so help is available for taxpayers who are trying to navigate the complex tax code and be compliant," she added.

Earlier this year, Koskinen went so far as to urge taxpayers to seek information on the IRS's website, and to avoid calling the agency for help whenever possible.

The IRS answered about six out of 10 calls in 2013, though Koskinen had said he hoped to get that number up to around 70 percent this filing season. The agency is also offering taxpayers less help in filling out their forms.

In all, the IRS dropped from more than 89,000 employees at the end of fiscal 2012 to more than 83,000 at the end of 2013. In addition to the drop in taxpayer assistance positions, the agency also shed almost 600 investigatory positions. 

Thousands more IRS employees have left the agency since the budget started falling in 2010, which – amid GOP opposition – shows no signs of being dramatically increased anytime soon. 

Koskinen and other IRS supporters have said that sort of approach is short-sighted, because each dollar spent on enforcement efforts brings back several times that amount in new revenue.