The partial government shutdown lasting from late December through late January had a variety of negative impacts on the IRS and on the service it provides to taxpayers, according to a report from the National Taxpayer Advocate that likely reflects the experiences of other agencies, as well.
During that period, “taxpayers had limited means to obtain customer service assistance from the IRS via phone, in person, or by mail,” it said, with results including that the IRS was unable to staff its phone lines to assist callers from start of the shutdown to recalling some employees just before it ended. It estimated that there were 3.8 million attempts to call the IRS that went unanswered during that time and said nearly 17,000 scheduled appointments at taxpayer assistance centers had to be canceled.
Also, some 5 million pieces of correspondence from taxpayers came in during that time which had to be set aside and “a backlog of paper tax returns and taxpayer correspondence developed.” It added that the IRS was unable to follow its typical practice of shifting customer service representatives in December-January from answering telephones to working on correspondence to reduce that backlog before turning to answering the increase in calls when tax filing season starts in late January.
Further, hiring and training of customer service personnel was delayed; the IRS was able to complete training for only 436 of more than 2,900 new hires before the annual peak period around President’s Day, resulting in a level of service measure dropping to a score of 57 from 78 the prior year.