IRS chief: Budget cuts hurting recruitment

The IRS chief laid out another downside to recent budget cuts on Tuesday, bemoaning that the agency’s problems recruiting and retaining young talent.

John Koskinen, the IRS chief, said at the National Press Club that a hiring freeze caused by the agency’s dwindling budget has left it with an aging workforce.

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“Given my own age, I think I can diplomatically say our workforce is maturing at a rapid rate,” the 75-year old commissioner said.

For instance, Koskinen said that over half of IRS staffers are over 50, and that roughly two in five employees will be eligible for retirement by 2019. On the flip side, the agency only has around 1,900 staffers under 30, which amounts to roughly 3 percent of the workforce.

That situation is a far cry from past decades, Koskinen said, when younger workers saw the IRS as a starting place that could help land a job at top accounting or law firms.

“Essentially, the IRS is facing its own version of the baby bust,” Koskinen said.

For the agency, the issue is that it can take years to fully train high-level staff like auditors, making it more important to find good employers early on. Koskinen said the issue was so important that he no longer wanted to rely on a hiring freeze to help keep the IRS under budget, though he acknowledged to reporters after his speech that he didn’t know how the IRS would find the money to pay for more staffers.

Koskinen’s comments came as part of a speech aimed at putting the IRS’s issues from the last couple years – including the improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups that enraged Republicans – behind the agency.

GOP lawmakers have also knocked the IRS for out-of-control spending on conferences and videos, and have cited the agency’s troubles as they slashed the IRS’s budget more than $1 billion since 2010.

Those budget cuts, Koskinen says, have taken an especially large toll on taxpayer services, with the agency now only able to answer around 40 percent of the public’s phone calls.

But at the same time, Koskinen said the current tax filing season is going “swimmingly,” even though the IRS has taken on new duties this year because of ObamaCare and a major law aimed at cracking down on offshore tax evasion.

The IRS chief has acknowledged that his pitch for more funding is a tough sell on Capitol Hill, but said that the successes of this filing season won’t undercut his message.

That’s because, Koskinen said, the IRS has no choice but to ensure the filing season has as few hitches as possible. “We may not answer any calls. We may do no audits. But we’ll run the filing season,” he said.