Federal Manager's Daily Report

The GAO has issued the latest of a long series of warnings about skills shortages at the IRS due to the shrinkage of its workforce in recent years, stressing that the overall numbers hide even steeper declines in certain specialties.

“IRS has skills gaps in mission critical occupations, and the agency’s efforts to address these skills gaps do not target the occupations in greatest need, such as tax examiners and revenue officers,” it said.

Staffing has declined each year since 2011—now down by about a fifth from that year’s 95,500—due to hiring restrictions imposed as the overall budget dropped by about 16 percent, after adjusting for inflation; three-fourths of that budget goes to personnel costs. Staff decreases “have been uneven across different mission areas,” with the most significant drop, about 27 percent, in enforcement-related positions. As have prior reports from the Taxpayer Advocate and others, GAO said that has led to audits of individual returns being cut roughly by nearly half in that time, and audits of corporate returns being cut by more than half.

The IRS “lacks information about what mission critical skills it has on board, where skills gaps exist, and what skills will be needed in the future” and development of a strategic workforce plan “is behind schedule and on hold.” It further suffers from a lack of hiring capacity in its HR operations to address shortages even if it had the money to do so, GAO said.

In addition, the IRS is facing “increasing rates of retirement eligible employees,” with 21 percent of its overall workforce and 45 percent of its senior executives already eligible to retire, compared with the government-wide average of about 14 percent.