Dr. Boozman's Check-up
The following column was published in the April 22, 2015 edition of The Hill.
Improvements needed in IRS customer service
By Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Did filing your taxes go off without a hitch? To comply with the tax deadline, Arthur in Cave City, Ark., has relied on the IRS forms provided at the local library for decades. Imagine his surprise when those papers weren’t available this year. What followed for Arthur was very inconvenient and time consuming, just to get the forms to comply with the law. He called the IRS only to be put on hold, transferred and given the website to print out the forms. Unfortunately Arthur, like many other Arkansans, doesn’t have the ability to print the paperwork. He turned to my office for help, and we provided him with the documents he needed to file his taxes. Stories like this are becoming all too familiar, because the IRS fails to make customer service a priority.
According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), a division of the IRS, taxpayer service is the IRS’s most serious problem. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen estimates that only 50 percent of taxpayer phone calls will be answered, and taxpayers who suffer patiently like Arthur will face wait times of at least 30 minutes. According to the TAS, “taxpayer service has reached unacceptably low levels and is getting worse.” I agree. The IRS must make taxpayer service a priority, but right now, taxpayer service is on hold, while the IRS focuses on other priorities.
Koskinen testified before the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services last month asking for $12.9 billion, a $2 billion increase in the agency’s current budget. This request is out of touch with the fiscal reality of our country. Instead of using existing funds to improve customer service, the agency is diverting money to implement ObamaCare. This law expands the role and power of an agency that too often fails to accomplish its duties. The IRS requested nearly $500,000,000 to implement ObamaCare in this year alone. The agency is already facing mounting criticism in its failure to properly collect the medical device tax, one of more than 20 new taxes created by ObamaCare. Assigning new responsibilities to an agency that has a proven track record of misuse of taxpayer money, problems with enforcement of tax laws and challenges with waste, fraud and abuse was never a good idea.
The agency has forgotten that its most important customers are the American people. We expect customer service to be a priority for the IRS, because more Americans deal with it than any other federal agency. As chairman of the subcommittee responsible for appropriating the annual IRS budget, I am concerned that the IRS is giving tax dollars to illegal immigrants, bonuses to its employees and choosing not to implement inspector general recommendations to prevent tax fraud by prisoners. Instead, the IRS should prioritize its funding to assist millions of Americans and Arkansans like Arthur. I will work with my colleagues to ensure common sense is used, when the IRS makes decisions as to how it spends taxpayer dollars.
Boozman is Arkansas’s senior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Appropriations; Environment and Public Works; Rules and Administration; and Veterans’ Affairs committees.