The IRS’s ability to provide customer service to taxpayers and other stakeholders initially “was significantly hampered and limited” by the pandemic, especially in the early months, the IG there has said.
The report said that the IRS shut down 81 of its 87 toll-free telephone lines because all call center locations were closed in March 2020, when all 358 taxpayer assistance centers also were closed. It reopened all of the phone lines by last November except for one that was no longer needed, but as of February of this year, 73 of the centers remained closed. The number of taxpayers assisted face-to-face fell in fiscal 2020 to just over 1 million, from 2.3 million the prior year.
It added that initially, only 237 phone representatives had been approved for telework but that number grew to 9,606 by last September. Meanwhile the agency made plans to hire an additional 4,000 although it expects to fall short by about 1,000 for reasons including “a lack of anticipated applicants.”
The report said the agency’s “ability to provide adequate assistance to taxpayers continues to be affected by COVID-19. For example, the number of employees who can report to an IRS office is limited due to social distancing requirements. Employees who are exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine, further reducing available staffing.”
However, it noted the agency has “accelerated the implementation of several customer service options it had been testing and expanded the use of existing technologies and capabilities.” For example, it established several topic-specific phone lines and email addresses and “is testing a virtual service option that will enable it to provide virtual face-to-face assistance to taxpayers from anywhere.”