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Senate Panel Examines IRS Administration; Congress Works Toward Bipartisan IRS Reform

The IRS faces numerous challenges, most of which are attributable to funding cuts, the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson told a Senate panel earlier. “The IRS needs adequate funding to do its job effectively,” Olson told lawmakers.

IRS Funding

Olson, while testifying at a Senate Finance Committee (SFC) Taxation and IRS Oversight Subcommittee hearing, placed blame on both congressional appropriations and IRS management for the Service’s challenges. “While some of the IRS’s struggles can be addressed by better management, much of the IRS’s challenges are attributable to funding cuts,” Olson said. The IRS has simultaneously seen an increased workload and budget reduction of 20% when accounting for inflation between fiscal years 2010 and 2018, according to Olson. “Because of these reductions, the IRS does not have enough employees to answer the phones, to conduct outreach and education, or to provide basic taxpayer service,” she added.

Further, Olson noted that the IRS answered only 29% of telephone calls received on the Accounts Management lines during this year’s filing season. Additionally, IRS compliance and enforcement efforts have also struggled, Olson said, adding that the audit rate is at its lowest level in “memory.” Likewise, Phyllis Jo Kubey, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Enrolled Agents, IRS Advisory Council, remarked on decreased IRS funding. “The agency is handicapped by budgeting that is not only insufficient to meet its large and growing portfolio, but also inefficiently structured,” Kubey told lawmakers.

IRS Reform

The SFC subcommittee hearing came just days after the 20-year anniversary of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. The House and Senate are currently working toward approving bipartisan legislation that would significantly reform the IRS for the first time in 20 years. SFC Taxation and IRS Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, unveiled the bipartisan Protecting Taxpayers Bill. The measure aims to reform a number of IRS functions and administrative practices, according to a joint press release issued the same day.

“It has been 20 years since the last significant IRS reform, and it is time to update the agency once again,” Portman said in the press release. Similarly, Cardin praised the bill for including needed updates to modernize the IRS. “Americans of all income levels deserve a responsive, effective IRS, and the updates contained in this bipartisan bill will help keep the IRS on that path,” Cardin said.

Additionally, SFC Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, recently introduced the bipartisan Taxpayer First Bill ( Sen. 3246). The measure would also reform certain administrative practices at the IRS.

To that end, the House approved its bipartisan IRS reform package, the Taxpayer First Bill ( HR 5444), last April. The House package contains several proposals, which would, among other things:

  • establish a single point of contact for tax-related identity theft victims;
  • expand the use of Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs); and
  • require electronic filing for certain tax-exempt organizations.

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