Customer service at the IRS is ‘stretched so thin that things could go very badly wrong,’ says agency watchdog

The Internal Revenue Service’s in-house public advocate is adding to her recent warnings that the agency needs more money in order to avoid breakdowns.

Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, made the following remark Thursday on Capitol Hill:

Her comments came during a hearing on the current tax filing season that was held by the House Ways and Means Committee’s oversight subcommittee. Last year, Olson warned that the IRS would struggle to implement the recent tax overhaul without more money.

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Olson also covered the performance of IRS workers who are tasked with fielding phone calls from taxpayers to the agency’s main “accounts management” lines. In the first four weeks of filing season, they had answered only 18% of such calls, “substantially below” last year’s level, she said.

Check out: IRS service should improve after some saw their ‘worst tax season,’ advocate says

The average refund so far was $3,143, comparable to last year’s amount, though Olson cautioned that it’s too early in the season to provide comprehensive comparisons. She added that the agency has been having to deal with two big challenges — the five-week government shutdown and changes due to the tax-reform law.

Opinion: The outrage over plunging tax refunds is premature — let’s wait for the facts

The new, postcard-sized Form 1040 didn’t get a rave review from Olson, who plans to retire in July after 18 years on the job. Her post involves leading an independent organization within the IRS and reporting to the Congress on the agency’s problems.

“The majority of taxpayers, about 68%, will have to complete additional schedules,” she told the subcommittee. “That will add complexity and probably increase tax-preparation fees. I recommend taxpayers be given the option of completing either the new postcard 1040 or the traditional 1040.”

One subcommittee member, Indiana Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski, said the problems at the IRS are not just a result of insufficient funding, but also because of management failures. She cited the agency’s ongoing struggles with upgrading its technology.

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