The Internal Revenue Service will launch a full-court press this month to tackle its massive backlog of tax returns, aiming to hire 5,000 workers in the next 30 days and extend high-tech customer support tools throughout its operations, officials said Thursday.
The tax collector will deploy a second “surge team” to sort through its accumulation of 24 million tax returns and correspondence, reassigning 700 employees at its processing centers in Utah, Missouri and Texas. It will hire more contractors to staff phone lines and complete clerical work. In recent days, it expanded customer callback functions to 70% of its phone lines, a move that’s already saved taxpayers 1 million hours of hold time.
The moves, disclosed by a senior Treasury official not authorized to speak publicly, represent the agency’s most aggressive strategy to dig out from under the massive backlog, the result of lagging operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The IRS briefly sent employees home in March 2020, the peak of tax-filing season, creating a cliff of returns and correspondence from which it still has not recovered. The consequences have been severe for taxpayers who rely on tax credits or refunds for basic living expenses, and underscored weaknesses in the agency’s staffing and 60 year-old IT infrastructure.
Congress is set to boost the agency’s funding in its pending $1.5 trillion spending bill. The IRS will get $12.6 billion, a 6% increase and the agency’s largest budgetary increase since 2001. It includes $5.4 billion for tax enforcement, with some funding positioned to carry out sanctions against Russian oligarchs related to the invasion of Ukraine, and $2.8 billion for consumer services such as taxpayer assistance centers and low-income tax clinics.
“IRS employees have been working tirelessly to process backlogged returns and taxpayer correspondence. To ensure inventory is back to a healthy level for next filing season, we are leaving no stone unturned, taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure as many employees as possible are dedicating time to return processing,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement. “This includes bringing on new employees and reassigning current IRS employees to process inventory.”
But some experts remain concerned that the steps could come too late to spare taxpayers pain associated with IRS delays. The agency aims to have its backlog resolved by the end of the year, and it will take 30 to 45 days to hire and train new employees, officials said.