As IRS Is Overwhelmed by Demands, So Too Is Taxpayer Advocate

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Sep 3, 2021
GettyImages-494777797 Erin Collins IRS Taxpayer Advocate KPMG

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins, in a recent blog post, said that her office, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), is facing an unusual number of challenges. These challenges have diminished the TAS's ability to assist taxpayers having issues with the IRS, which itself has been overwhelmed by case work. 

"On top of dealing with personal, medical, and financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, taxpayers have struggled to get advice and answers from the IRS, and millions of refunds are still pending," said Collins. "The IRS’s level of service on its toll-free telephone lines has been at all-time lows, paper correspondence and paper returns have added other complexities and delays throughout the year, and many taxpayers are still waiting for their returns to be processed or their refunds to be paid. As the IRS has been struggling with these challenges, many taxpayers have appropriately reached out to TAS for assistance." 

Collins noted that, as a result, the TAS has seen dramatically increased workloads. To illustrate, in fiscal year 2017, the TAS received about 167,000 cases; this year, it is expecting 253,000. At the same time, like the IRS's budget, the TAS's budget has declined; that decline has been by 10 percent since 2017 on an inflation-adjusted basis. Further, issues at individual units of the IRS have meant that advocates need to spend more time on each case. 

On this last point, Collins said that, to close cases, the TAS must work with the other business units. TAS case advocates typically must issue Operations Assistance Requests (OARs) or Taxpayer Assistance Orders (TAOs) to the IRS business units that advocate for the IRS to take specified actions to resolve cases, including expediting refunds, processing amended or original returns, issuing refunds, resolving identity verification issues, or making other necessary corrections. The TAS relies on the same IRS employees as taxpayers to fix most TAS taxpayer problems for them.

In response, the TAS has needed to revisit its case acceptance criteria, transfer cases more frequently among offices, increase overtime, and revisit its training and onboarding strategies, all with an eye toward providing more available hours to work taxpayer cases. This has led to some hard choices, such as limiting the acceptance of stimulus cases and other issues until the IRS had a process established to work those requests.

Collins called on Congress to provide more funding to both the TAS and the IRS as a whole. She wrote, "As Congress focuses on the IRS’s budget, it should continue to allocate appropriate funds to protect taxpayer rights, including the right to quality service. The IRS’s return processing, audit, and collection procedures should not impose unreasonable burdens on taxpayers. The IRS’s return processing, audit, and collection procedures should not impose unreasonable burdens on taxpayers."

She concluded, "Our goal is to improve our response time, completion dates, and ability to assist taxpayers, but we ask for your understanding as we work through our backlog and resume providing the high levels of service that taxpayers deserve."

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