IRS Commissioner John Koskinen spoke on August 8 at the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) National Conference in Washington, D.C. During the event, Koskinen discussed his tenure as head of the Service. He also discussed taxpayer service, regulating return preparers and his hopes for the ongoing budget appropriations process.
“I’ve spent my term as Commissioner trying to make Congress and the public realize that the tax filing season doesn’t happen automatically or by accident,” Koskinen said. “It happens because our employees spend months beforehand preparing for it, and then making sure it goes smoothly.”
Audience members expressed concern about IRS taxpayer services. Koskinen responded that a lack of resources is largely to blame for IRS shortcomings in taxpayer service.
“I warned Congress that with continued budget cuts, our level of service would fall to an unacceptable level,” he said. “It’s a simple algorithm – if we have the money, we hire people and they answer the phone. If we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people, and we don’t answer the phone enough.”
Koskinen noted that Congress allocated an additional $290 million in funding for taxpayer services in 2016 and 2017. According to Koskinen, the average wait time for people calling the IRS during the 2017 filing season was eight minutes. However, the audience greeted Koskinen’s statement with apparent “disbelief.”
“Our goal is you shouldn’t have to wait more than a minute, or two minutes at max to get through,” Koskinen said. These wait times would equate to the IRS having a service level in the low to mid 80 percent rage, he added.
Although the IRS has been able to get to the 73 percent service level with the additional funding, it is still significantly below where the IRS would like to be, Koskinen said. “Those delays are not acceptable and my hope is that, at some point, Congress will recognize that.”
Minimum Standards for Return Preparers
In addition, Koskinen spoke of the important role return preparers play in the filing process. He stated that the IRS’s goal is to have the authority to require preparers to meet a certain set of standards. “The IRS has been pushing for several years to ensure every tax return preparer has minimum qualifications,” he said.
According to Koskinen, thousands of people with no qualifications prepare tax returns each year. “We need to make sure these preparers have a basic level of competency. They need to stay on top of what’s new in tax law in order to serve their clients well.” The IRS will continue to urge Congress to grant the Service the authority to require minimum standards for return preparers, he added.