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IRS to stand up second ‘surge team’ to address massive tax filing backlog, per Taxpayer Advocate


By Liz Stark and Gabe Cohen, CNN

The Internal Revenue Service will stand up a second “surge team” to address its massive backlog of tax returns and correspondence, the National Taxpayer Advocate said during a congressional hearing Thursday.

The IRS has already redirected roughly 1,200 employees back into entry-level clerical positions, where they are manually filing paperwork and answering phones, to shrink the backlog and address taxpayer confusion. The agency has also implemented mandatory overtime for employees.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig wrote in a recent op-ed for Yahoo! Money that the agency is “creating and redirecting surge teams to address the inventories,” as part of an effort to sort through the backlog.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the second surge team.

Erin Collins, the Taxpayer Advocate, told lawmakers Thursday this announcement is “an important first step.”

“The IRS is now establishing a second surge team to put additional resources on the processing challenges,” said Collins. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS.

This comes as the IRS faces pandemic-induced backlogs from the past two years that, coupled with limited funding and an extra workload from stimulus programs, are making the current tax season even busier than usual.

Thursday’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee highlighted many of the operational issues continuing to plague the IRS this year, including staffing shortages, processing delays and outdated IT infrastructure.

The Covid-19 pandemic created new challenges for the agency and brought on additional work. Congress tasked the IRS with sending out billions of dollars in economic relief benefits like the stimulus payments and monthly enhanced child tax credit payments.

Collins cited this combination of challenges Thursday as a significant factor affecting the IRS’ performance.

“A toxic combination of office closures early in the pandemic, inadequate staffing, antiquated IT systems and the need to divert resources from core work to administer the three rounds of stimulus payments, the monthly child tax credit payments and several financial relief programs has created an unprecedented imbalance between the IRS’ workload and their resources,” Collins told lawmakers.

Taxpayers have also faced enormous difficulty in connecting with someone at the IRS who could help them with questions. Customer service representatives only answered 11% of the roughly 282 million telephone calls the agency received last year, according to recent reports from the National Taxpayer Advocate and the Government Accountability Office. The number of calls more than doubled compared with the year before.

“There was a lot of confusion on the part of taxpayers that prompted calls to IRS. The backlog also was a big contributor to that,” said GAO’s director for strategic issues Jessica Lucas-Judy, pointing to processing delays where customers “weren’t getting enough information” from the IRS about their returns. “And so they were starting to call with questions,” she added.

The Taxpayer Advocate also pointed to paper processing as “the IRS’ kryptonite” and urged for greater modernization of the IRS’ services.

“So in essence, the IRS, we need to get out of the age of the dinosaur or the Dark Ages,” Collins said, but cautioned it would be a “heavy lift” without proper funding.

“They look at it as a funding issue. This is a heavy lift for the IRS. They need to have sustained long-term funding in order to take on a project that size,” she said.

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