WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) joined Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) to introduce legislation that will require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prioritize federal taxpayers over representational work during tax filing season. Cosponsors of the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act include Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Scott (R-FL), Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
While President Biden has requested $80 billion to double the agency’s workforce, many current IRS employees are spending much of their time on the job completing tasks unrelated to their official duties, called Taxpayer-Funded Union Time (TFUT). This legislation would prohibit staff at the IRS from leaving their duty stations during filing season to work on TFUT responsibilities.
“Arkansans consistently express to me their frustrations with the IRS, particularly its customer service which is clearly lacking,” said Boozman. “It should almost go without saying that, during tax season, IRS employees should be fully devoted to fulfilling their mission to help Americans meet their tax responsibilities. Our bill requires the agency to ensure it is prioritizing taxpayers’ needs.”
“The pressing needs of American taxpayers should be the top priority for IRS staff, at the very least during tax filing season,” said Braun. “While President Biden has requested $80 billion to muster an army of bureaucrats at the IRS, currently many IRS employees are spending their work time completing unrelated representational work on the taxpayer’s dime. This bill will focus all available staff to complete the duties of the positions for which they were hired, rather than union work, during tax season.”
The IRS Customer Service Improvement Act:
· Amends 5 U.S.C. § 7131 to prohibit staff at the IRS from leaving their duty stations during filing season to do taxpayer-funded union official time.
· In other words, during IRS filing season, the priority must be serving federal taxpayers with the highest quality service and not doing representational work.
· Supersedes existing Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) which prevents stalling of renegotiations. Going forward CBA terms cannot authorize official time use during tax season.
WHAT IS TAXPAYER-FUNDED UNION TIME?
TFUT is when federal employees perform representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, federal employees performing TFUT are paid by federal taxpayers to do union work versus the duty stations jobs they were hired to perform.
· In Fiscal Year 2019, 1,421 Treasury employees used taxpayer-funded union time and consumed 353,820 hours of taxpayer-funded union time.
· Of these 1,421 Treasury employees on taxpayer-funded union time, 350 IRS employee job categories are classified as customer service representatives/contact representatives. Of these 350, 46 were greater than or equal to 80 percent of TFUT hours versus overall work time.
THE IRS HAS A CUSTOMER SERVICE PROBLEM
The Taxpayer Advocate Services (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that works to identify and fix systemic problems affecting taxpayers. In the 2020 report for taxpayers, the TAS found that poor customer service and personnel problems were among the top challenges facing the IRS.
· For example, one such challenge concerns telephone and in-person service that is in part due to a “lack of staff.” The TAS found that the IRS received more than 100 million calls, but only answered 24 million; calls averaged 18 minutes of hold time; and face-to-face assistance declined from 4.4 million in 2016 to 2.3 million in 2019 and 1.0 million in 2020.
· As another example, TAS found that while the IRS processes most amended returns in a timely manner, some returns nevertheless linger for months, generating over a million calls that the IRS cannot answer and thousands of TAS cases annually.
Given these and other challenges, the IRS should focus all available staff to the pressing needs of taxpayers, but at the very least during tax filing season.
While Taxpayer-Funded Union Time (TFUT) is authorized by 5 U.S.C. § 7131, it was intended to be limited in nature. Instead, and as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management noted in October 2020: “Large amounts of official time allocated to agency employees conducting activities on behalf of unions have resulted in widespread diversion of resources from agency mission-critical functions. In many cases, where agency union representatives serve as full-time union officials, agencies are no longer able to rely on employees even for a portion of their duty time, to complete the duties of the positions for which they were hired."