stop beating up the irs – really

look what these people have been asked to do over the years, and thank them.

by jon baron, mba
co-founder and head of strategy at make the connection inc.

during my career, irs employees have had to react to the largest tax change ever in the economic recovery tax act of 1981 and multiple large bills in 1982 and ’83, and then very significant changes in ‘86. and there were many changes between then and now. most were typically last-minute, retroactive bills that would generally not be acted upon until december which of course the irs would have to implement literally within weeks for tax season.

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virtually every president has had their stamp on the tax code, including obama with the affordable care act in 2010. and then in 2017, the 4th largest bill ever in terms of tax cuts occurred on december 22. lots of time to plan for tax season, right? and then there was the absurd political show of creating a “post-card sized” tax return to go along with it. that exercise created a massive amount of unnecessary work. it was insane, done for purely political reasons, and it benefited no one. among other extra work, it added the requirement to create six new schedules. and by the way, it was pretty much scrapped two years ago.

now let’s fast forward to 2020.

covid hits. like most, the irs was in no way ready for work from home and they were smack in the middle of their peak time of year. wow! then the first wave of stimulus checks. 160 million of them. take care of that irs, and deal with approximately 10 million of new returns that were only filed to allow for the distribution of some of those stimulus checks. and of course, we had an extended tax season, so irs people were buried through mid-october. then – the second wave of stimulus checks. right before tax season, naturally. and here we are now, again at the height of tax season, and one where tax return volume is way up, faced with another – very much necessary – a wave of stimulus checks. and irs, please deal with significant unemployment fraud as well.

has the irs been perfect through all this? of course not. do they have some backlog to get through? of course. challenges with the unemployment situation? another yes. but all-in-all, their performance was very good given their lack of available funding for technology, etc.

let’s look at the broader backdrop through this:

according to a 2019 study by indiana university which looked at data from the government accounting office, at that time the irs had 21% fewer employees than in 2011 (it’s now down 22%), and the $11.3 billion budget for 2019, adjusted for inflation was 19% below its highest level of funding in 2010 and smaller than in 2000. btw – during this period, the volume of tax returns has increased by over 9%.

what started these massive cuts? bottom line is that they were pushed by those in congress that didn’t like the irs’s role in administering the affordable care act. and it didn’t help that in 2013 the agency was embroiled in a bit of a scandal with accusations that some non-profits were delayed on gaining irs approval. a certain representative from ohio was driving the charge on squeezing the irs budget at the time.

overall, i believe the irs does an excellent job and needs more funding support to up their game. given their massive task and what they’ve accomplished, they should be thanked rather than undergoing constant criticism. they are always doing their best, and are always asking for input on improving the agency.

one good example of their desire to do the very best is the initial public/private security summit to eliminate tax refund identity theft, which was a massive problem. this effort was brought about in 2016 by then irs commissioner john koskinen. the irs called a few of the ceos of the major tax software companies of which i was one, a couple of banks that were heavy hitters in the tax refund business, and a few others, to solve what was a major issue to the us government and its taxpayers. the program was a huge success and has now grown to over 60 participants from a small handful at that initial meeting. and it would not have happened, without an initial major drive from commissioner koskinen.

i’ve worked with the irs my entire career at various levels, and frankly, i’m very impressed with the leadership, technical skills, security competence, compassion, professionalism, work ethic, and empathy of their people. considering all of their challenges, they have performed exceptionally well over the years, and as an added bonus, have been generally easy to work with. all of their people truly do care, and simply are performing a task – a difficult and a critical one to our country – that they have been asked to do.

thank you, irs employees. you do have supporters thinking about your efforts, and especially what you’ve been through recently and as you face the next several months.

11 responses to “stop beating up the irs – really”

  1. jonathan baron

    if the stimulus bill makes it all the way through, the irs certainly has their hands full again this year. get the checks out, deal with changing the taxation of 2020 unemployment, start administering the child tax credit this summer, etc.
    although it won’t help much this year, they did get a nice bump in funding.

  2. trisch garthoeffner

    what the irs has accomplished throughout covid is spectacular! very impressive. that being said, they need funding. hopefully government in place will work toward enhanced funding.

  3. michael blair

    well these are fed employees that barely work and maybe take it to congress and tell them no, stop doing this stupid shit

  4. tim crawford

    i fully support the efforts to cut funding to the irs, and support any efforts to restrict their ability to intrude into the personal lives of americans. as a cpa working for my clients, i consider my relationship with the irs to be adversarial, and i make sure that my clients know this. i feel sympathy for the irs employee to the extent that i would encourage them to leave their job and work for another government agency, or better yet, the private sector. i cannot at all relate to the warm fuzzy feelings the author has for the irs described in this article.

  5. michael cody

    yup. they are just humans too. everyone has stepped up during this pandemic.

  6. cathy volk

    the irs employees are struggling as well through no fault of their own (except for the occasional miserable bad apple). i always thank them for their assistance and try to bring a laugh to their day. one asked if i could please call her every day!. i felt some glimmer of hope when the new commish laid out his goals and plans, but unfortunately early into his tenure he stepped in a big pile of pandemic, so i am no longer holding out hope for improvement in the foreseeable future. i just try to not let the frustration get to me, the folks on the other end are likely equally frustrated. um, jon – can we please get you back at the helm of the “software company”?

  7. bill minkin

    absolutely not, the irs is a bureaucracy with no leadership at all. do i fault the line workers no, the leadership in middle top management yes – everyone of these fools should be fired today. the are on a power trip and there has been plenty of money given to the irs, the waste it! if this author has any common sense (which appears he does not) he would be calling to get rid of the irs and our current tax system which only enriches attorneys.

  8. morris armstrong

    i agree with the author and the irs should be appreciated. they have done an admirable job in doling out the billions of dollars that congress authorized them to do in , they have continued to act as the collector of taxes for the us and their employees for the most part have been professional under trying circumstances. nonetheless, they have violated nearly every item in the taxpayer’s bill of rights and corrective action needs to be taken.
    it would help if the congress better funded them and did not employ them in political schemes which have proved unsuccessful.

  9. karen ostrowski

    while i agree that they are working hard, i don’t understand why they can’t get more funding. the have semi loads of mail that has been just sitting there for 6 months. amended returns, tax notice responses many with checks. but yet they still are sending out letters to pay now or threatening liens when they aren’t even opening their mail that can resolve half these notices. i’m sure they could use this money; hire more people to open their mail. if you call, you sit on hold for hours. and clients are panicking. what a mess! this needs to be a priority and be resolved.

  10. rex feral

    um, no.

  11. frank stitely

    while i feel for irs employees and they certainly need a lot more funding to be effective, they got their budget whacked playing politics. i hope that’s a lesson for future irs commissioners – be the irs – not the fbi, ftc, cia, and a political action committee all rolled up into one.