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IRS Budget Cuts Make For Nightmarish Filing Season


Tomorrow, it is April 15. You know what that means - tax day. For many, not a day particular joy - but this year, it's become an absolute nightmare for many taxpayers who try to visit their local IRS office or call for advice on filing their taxes. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, they're finding long lines, long waits on hold and not much help.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: At the Fort Lauderdale IRS office, taxpayers have been lining up at dawn to get a chance to ask for help with their taxes. It's a scene that's repeated across the country. Donna McGowan is an IRS employee who is president of the local chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers. McGowan says even after waiting in line for hours, there's no guarantee that a taxpayer will actually get help.

DONNA MCGOWAN: You can imagine the frustration if somebody waits all day and then is turned away. And I want to say that it's equally frustrating for the employees. There just isn't enough time in a day to help everybody who's asking questions.

NAYLOR: Nationwide, there's been a nearly 17 percent reduction in IRS workers from 2011, according to the union, which blames Congressional budget cuts. For the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated just under $11 billion. That's 1.2 billion less than five years ago. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says adjusted for inflation, the IRS budget this year is comparable to 1998 levels, despite more taxpayers and new complications, such as the Affordable Care Act.

JOHN KOSKINEN: As a result, our phone level of service is now below 40 percent. That means that 6 out of every 10 people who call can't reach a customer service representative. This truly is an abysmal level of service.

NAYLOR: Callers who do get through don't get much help either, says Pam Strum, a union president in St. Louis.

PAM STRUM: By the time our assistors actually get that person on the phone, they're not only angry because they've waited for an hour to get someone, and now we're telling them basically that we can't help them. You have to go to the Internet to try to fix your problem.

NAYLOR: Not much help for taxpayers who lack computers or computer literacy. The IRS budget cuts are a direct result of Republican anger at the agency for a litany of issues, ranging from the IRS's alleged targeting of conservative groups to charges it has too aggressively pursued civil asset forfeiture cases. Here's Illinois Republican Peter Roskam at a recent Congressional hearing.


REPRESENTATIVE PETER ROSKAM: The IRS grabbed these taxpayers by their throat and squeezed them and squeezed them and squeezed them without mercy and nearly ruined them and made their lives miserable.

NAYLOR: Roskam called the argument that the IRS lacks resources to operate efficiently, quote, "laughable." But those taxpayers caught up in this political spat may feel the joke is on them. Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.