The House Ways and Means Committee released a report yesterday saying that the IRS “deliberately” cut public information services to make this year’s tax season more frustrating and painful than it needed to be.
According to House Republicans, the IRS cut customer service personnel and phone capacity budgets rather than cuts in the millions of dollars the IRS spent on pet projects, “performance” bonuses and other discretionary spending. The report said that:
“…close review of the agency’s spending shows the IRS deliberately cut $134 million in funding for customer service to pay for other activities. Spending decisions entirely under the IRS’s control led to 16 million fewer taxpayers receiving IRS assistance this filling season.”
With respect to Congresses role in funding, the report revealed that:
“Congress made these cuts in part to lower unsustainably high federal spending, but also in response to waste and misconduct at the IRS.”
The report suggested that IRS spending choices were driven by a desire to retaliate against Congress revealing that call wait times averaged 34.4 minutes and that roughly half of all calls were never answered because they were dropped by the automated IRS phone system.
Rep. Peter Roskam, (R-IL), Chairman of the Ways and Means oversight committee said that “Fiscal year 2014 bonus money could have been used to answer 7.2 million additional phone calls” – a charge that irked IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who said he was forced to make customer service cuts because Congress reduced his agency’s budget.
Koskinen added that filings were up and that the IRS had taken on more duties including enforcement of Obamacare’s individual mandate fines and penalties.
Mr. Koskinen also bristled at what he called “deeper targeted cuts” imposed by Republican law makers in retaliation for the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and conservative organizations leading up to the 2012 elections – targeting that many believe sidelined conservative groups that spent time and resources dealing with politically motivated delays, paperwork and costs.
According to the report:
“In May 2013, it was revealed that the IRS was targeting organizations applying for tax-exempt status solely because of their names and policy positions. According to an audit conducted by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), targeted groups were subject to extraordinary delays and intrusive questioning, including wholly inappropriate demands for donor lists.”
“An internal IRS document discovered in the course of the House Ways and Means Committee’s investigation revealed that the IRS flagged groups for special scrutiny if their case files included any of the following: the name “tea party” or “patriot,” references to issues such as “government debt or taxes,” or criticism of “how the country is being run.”
Rep. Mike Kelly, (R-PA) said Koskinen made things worse himself when he told IRS employees they would have to do “less with less.” Kelly added:
“You cannot go to the troops and tell the troops that things have never been darker, days have never been longer, the winters have never been colder, but you know what, we have a solution to that, we’ll just do less with less.”
In response, Koskinen, who was characterized as arrogant, sarcastic, uncooperative and less than truthful during Congressional hearings into the IRS targeting scandal, spent $1.2 billion on implementing Obamacare over the last four years – money that could have been better spent in other areas.
Republicans also questioned why the IRS was paying salaries to federal employees for doing labor union work on “official time” – a widespread practice among federal agencies where public employees perform union work on the taxpayer’s dime – an indirect subsidy to public employee unions.