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The downside of IRS budget woes: less customer service

Political commentators sometimes opine that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

As a broad sociological statement, perhaps there is some truth in this statement. For individual taxpayers, however, it is difficult to understand why the IRS fails to provide better customer service.

In this post, we will discuss those lingering customer-service woes and how they affect taxpayers in Texas and across the country as the tax-filing season kicks into high gear.

For National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, the reason why the IRS struggles with customer service is simple enough. She recently reported to Congress that "chronic underfunding" has harmed the agency's ability to be available to assist people with common tax compliance problems.

We aren't talking here only about longer waits on hold when you call the IRS or shorter walk-in hours at field locations to pick up forms. We are also talking about systemic funding shortfalls that have affected the agency on multiple fronts.

Faced with funding cutbacks, the IRS has taken the position that it will only respond to "basic" tax questions. But in a code that has become as complicated and often convoluted as the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, restricting service to supposedly basic questions may do a disservice to many taxpayers.

Things don't get any better after the tax filing season ends on April 15. After that date, the IRS will be cutting back even further on live assistance. Instead, it will direct people to go online to the IRS website.

The Taxpayer Advocate contends that this approach does not only fall short on the level of customer service. It also tends to undermine the IRS as a positive force for promoting voluntary tax compliance. Instead, it leaves the IRS to rely increasingly on audits and other enforcement activities.

Source: Kiplinger, "Don't Look for Help From the IRS on Your 2013 Tax Return," Sandra Block, April 2014

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