IRS to cut back phone service

The Internal Revenue Service intends to reduce the hours it offers toll-free phone support to taxpayers in the upcoming tax season. The reduction comes as the IRS absorbs a funding cut.

Starting Jan. 23, 2006, the new hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, shaving three hours off the current 15 hours a day that the service is open. Richard Morgante, commissioner of the IRS’ Wage and Investment Division, said 93 percent of calls come during that 12-hour period.

“We are making reliable business decisions,” he said. “We are trying to make the most efficient use of our resources.”

Congress appropriated $11.7 billion to the IRS for fiscal 2006, which is $400 million more than last year. But it decreased the IRS’ customer service budget by about $100 million, Morgante said.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the phone service cutback outrageous. She said the reduced hours could push some taxpayers to noncompliance if help is not available.

“They depend on this 800 number,” she said. “This is a group of taxpayers that want to be compliant.”

Morgante said the IRS will continue to meet customer demand by providing the same level of service as in previous years; however, the agency will not hire its usual 400 seasonal workers.

Earlier this year, the IRS announced plans to close 68 of its 400 walk-in assistance centers. Officials said the rising use of the agency’s Web site and toll-free number for direct tax assistance made those 68 centers unnecessary. The move could have saved the agency almost $50 million a year.

Congress halted those closings, at least temporarily, by attaching a requirement to the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration study the impact of the closures. The first phase of the study will be released April 14, 2006, and the second phase will be completed by Oct. 1, 2006, Morgante said.

“Congress makes it very clear that there cannot be cutbacks in customer service by the IRS,” Kelley said.

But Morgante said the IRS was supporting Congress’ intent by meeting customer demand.

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