Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig praised the work of agency employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but stated that there simply are not enough of them as the agency is slowly working through the backlog the pandemic caused.
Rettig used that as the foundation to call for not only more funding for the agency, but to encourage people to apply for open positions within the agency, especially as it is facing significant employee shortages in the coming years.
“I appreciate your patience and understanding and working with us,” he said November 16 at the AICPA & CIMA National and Sophisticated Tax Planning Conferences in Washington, D.C., acknowledging how challenging it has been for them to be working with the IRS throughout the pandemic.
One issue has been the backlog in mail, which by July 2020, there were more than 20 million pieces of mail stockpiled Rettig said.
An Extreme Spike In Calls Received
He also noted that during the pandemic, the agency has been receiving a significantly higher number of phone calls. By August 2021, the agency received 246 million calls being handled by less than 15,000 customer service representatives. He said that on March 15, the calls were coming in at a rate of 1,500 calls per second. By comparison, the IRS received 42 million calls in 2019 and 44 million calls in 2020.
The average call in 2021 was also four minutes longer than in previous years, he said.
With that in mind, Retting stated that taxpayers and the tax professionals who help them deserve the timely responses they may not be getting, whether by mail or over the phone, because of workplace protocols that make some of these processes challenging and cause delays and issues between departments within the agency.
However, Rettig noted the constraints of working for the government are keeping the agency from expanding as it would simply do if it was a private firm.
“Level of service is an appropriated item,” meaning the IRS simply could not hire more people to man the phones or open the mail without getting more money from Congress to do so. “This should help frame up for you the importance of a properly funded Internal Revenue Service.”
He also noted that in the next six years, the agency is going to lose 52,000 employees.
“Our rebuild is critical for you and for the country,” he said. “If you ever thought about coming to work for the government, no better way to say it than now is the time. You can make a difference.”
If You See Something, Say Something
The other clear message he wanted to pass along to attendees of the conference was to be vocal with the agency about what is going on in the field so the agency can continue to improve. Rettig noted his work as a professional CPA prior to taking on the commissioner’s role and how he remains in regular contact with his professional peers from his time in private practice.
“You should be a part of this,” he said, emphasizing that he is easily reachable.
But he also mentioned that he has heard tax professionals that he knows complain in public forums about things without bringing it to his direct attention.
“If I know it and I don’t do something, that’s on me,” he said. “Continue to help us help others.”