Paul L. Caron
Dean





Wednesday, April 8, 2015

IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed

Bloomberg, An Emotional Audit: IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed:

Paying taxes to the IRS is no fun. Neither is working there.

The IRS has never been an easy place to work. Its 84,000 employees, 65 percent of them women, generally don’t tell people outside the service where they draw a paycheck. It’s no way to make friends. They toil in purposely anonymous buildings—a big sign outside might attract crazies. In 2010 an antigovernment zealot flew a single-engine plane into a building in Austin, Texas, where 190 agency employees worked, killing one of them. “Well, Mr. Big Brother I.R.S. man, let’s try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well,” the pilot, Joseph Stack III, wrote in a six-page suicide note.

More recently, the IRS has become a casualty of the budget battles between the Obama White House and House Republicans. Since the GOP won control of the chamber in 2010, the agency’s annual budget has fallen by $1.2 billion, to $10.9 billion in 2015. Meanwhile, the agency has lost 11 percent of its employees. Last year it started 19 percent fewer criminal investigations than 2013. This year alone, it expects to close at least 46,000 fewer audits. Nobody likes being scrutinized by the IRS, but audits are a key component of the tax system that keeps the U.S. afloat. “It’s core to the country,” says Jeffery Trinca, a former Senate aide turned lobbyist who specializes in tax policy.

The agency’s customer service operation has been hobbled, too. In late March, the IRS said fewer than 40 percent of the people who call during this tax season will get through to someone. A decade ago, the figure was 83 percent. The agency is so short on funds that some employees purchase their own office supplies, even though the IRS says they shouldn’t. “I buy my own pens,” says Catherine Ficco, a revenue officer in West Nyack, N.Y. “I buy my own clips and hole punchers and things of that nature. It’s not uncommon. There’s no money to order supplies or paper for my printer.”

Bloomberg

The IRS has long been disliked, but its employees aren’t used to being vilified. In May 2013 the agency disclosed that it had given extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups that were seeking nonprofit status. To Democrats, the decision to group together Tea Party applications and other politically oriented groups was merely a misguided attempt to find a consistent rule after years of muddled policy. “There were some boneheaded decisions,” President Obama told Fox News. To Republicans, the IRS’s hard look at Tea Party groups proved the service has a political bias. Since then the IRS has been consumed with scandals large and small: an expensively produced internal video that featured top executives dressed as Star Trek characters; a lavish conference funded with enforcement money where officials slept in presidential suites, albeit discounted ones; and the rehiring of employees accused of misconduct, including some who hadn’t filed their own taxes. ...

Bloomberg 3People who’ve spent their careers at the IRS all say the same thing: The pay wasn’t fantastic, but the health care and pension benefits were. And they went to the office each morning with a sense of purpose. Without their efforts, they knew, the federal government would stop working.

Whether they worked in Manhattan or Peoria, IRS veterans talk about something else that kept them at the Service: the feeling of camaraderie. It was nice that they appreciated one another, because nobody else did. “You go to a party, and if you say you are from the IRS, half the people move into the other room,” says Richard Schickel, a former senior collections officer in Tucson who retired in December 2013. “After a while, your wife and relatives get tired of listening to your stories. They say, ‘How could you take those people’s houses and their businesses?’ The only place you get understanding is with other IRS people.” ...

In 2012 the IRS reduced its training and travel budget by $54 million. That might not sound like much for an agency with a multibillion-dollar budget, but it punctured morale further. It became difficult, if not impossible, for employees to get together in one location. “The members of our team were scattered all around the country,” says David Stanley, an IRS research program manager who worked in Oakland, Calif., until his retirement last year. “We weren’t able to meet physically for about three years. You have all these people working in isolation.”

The IRS all but stopped sending managers to conferences to speak to accountants and other tax professionals about what could trigger an audit. It wasn’t just the cost of traveling. Ron Cerruti, a former territory manager in San Francisco, says the service was nervous that employees would say something controversial and embarrass it after the scandals of 2013. “I remember one time I was invited to attend a meeting at a hotel in San Francisco about four blocks from my office,” says Cerruti, who also retired last year. “There would have been no travel costs. I couldn’t get permission to go. They were afraid of what we were going to say in front of an audience of external people.” “We were on a gag order,” says Taylor. “I mean, it was ridiculous. We couldn’t talk outside of the organization.” ...

Some Republican leaders seem more interested in exploiting the scandals. The investigations into the Tea Party affair continue after almost two years and more than $20 million spent on them. Congressional investigators are pursuing missing e-mails sent by Lois Lerner, who oversaw the agency’s nonprofit division before she was nudged out in 2013. (William Taylor, her attorney, declined to comment.) “The public’s lost faith in the IRS,” says Senator John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican and chairman of a subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the service. “It’s really important to have faith in institutions. Now we’re [Congress] at an 18 percent approval rate, so it’s hard to pick on them.” Perhaps, but that isn’t stopping anybody on Capitol Hill.

IRS employees dread the political theater more than the budget cuts. “Every time one little thing is found, it’s blown up to some big conspiracy,” Dorothy Taylor says. “It’s disheartening to the employees in the organization, and that’s why a lot of people like myself have left. You get tired of being beaten down and having resources withheld. I was there when the tax-exempt [Tea Party] thing started. It had nothing to do with the examinations where I was, but it affected the whole organization.” ...

The fear in the IRS is that vilification of the service will hurt Americans’ high voluntary compliance, which makes the country more financially stable than, say, Greece, where much of the population declines to pay taxes altogether. Beleaguered IRS workers worry that citizens will test the system to see what they can get away with. “Once you go in that direction, it’s not an off/on switch,” Koskinen says. “You can’t turn it around the next day by saying, ‘Whoops, I take it back. It’s a really good agency, and they are doing good work.’”

Bloomberg 2

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2015/04/irs-workers-are-miserable-.html

IRS News, Tax | Permalink

Comments

"Koskinen spent much of his early months as commissioner meeting with employees around the country and listening to their gripes."

Evidently they have not cut the travel budget enough

Posted by: dbh | Apr 15, 2015 8:37:41 AM

It must be the FBI investigation disrupting the routine

Posted by: eltee | Apr 10, 2015 5:46:05 AM

The use of the IRS by Democrats against their political enemies is the most threatening and dangerous political action of my lifetime, and I'm now an old man. That was America's Calvo Sotelo moment. When the Democrats threw that card down, the political battle turned from politics as usual into a situation that probably can't be resolved peacefully.

My prediction is that the left will come to bitterly regret the day they decided to do that.

Posted by: mac | Apr 9, 2015 9:24:55 PM

I'm glad my stash of Confederate dollars is safe. The South will rise again!

Posted by: Mike | Apr 9, 2015 8:13:15 PM

"IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed"
And a goodly number of them are also lying Democratic party scumbags, evidently.

Posted by: David Longfellow | Apr 9, 2015 6:58:50 PM

Without discipline there is nothing to be proud of. Nothing!

Posted by: Rich Kempe | Apr 9, 2015 4:29:40 PM

When taxpayers became a minority, they were treated like a minority. The minority had the money, but the government had the power and treated the minority like a cash cow that produced the wherewithal. When the cow ran short on milk, the milkers beat the cow. Very smart...like all of DC these days.

Morale is bad? Look to management and messaging....first. Follow the power...all the way to the top.

Posted by: Lee Dodson | Apr 9, 2015 3:15:38 PM

From the article: "I buy my own pens,” says Catherine Ficco, a revenue officer in West Nyack, N.Y. “I buy my own clips and hole punchers and things of that nature. It’s not uncommon. There’s no money to order supplies or paper for my printer.”

Why are you still using pens? Why are you using hole punchers? Why are you printing documents? Join the 21st century already!

Time to privatize the IRS. Our nation's accounting firms would do a far more competent, unbiased, and accountable job at it.

Posted by: DorsalMorsel | Apr 9, 2015 11:52:43 AM

Ted Cruz said at his announcement speech that we could eliminate the IRS. Koskinen said that couldn't happen because someone had to collect the taxes.
Well; implement the "Fair Tax", repeal every word of the Tax Code and the Income Tax.
Every resident of the Republic should pay for the enjoyment of its rights and privileges and the Fair TAx is the only one that does that.
III/0317

Posted by: Jay Gee | Apr 9, 2015 10:56:52 AM

Every single one of the IRS employees involved in the process has testified under oath

Actually, no -- the most important witness, Lois Lerner, plead the Fifth Amendment, which is essentially an admission of lawbreaking.

Posted by: Phelps | Apr 9, 2015 8:35:57 AM

The IRS apologists who continue to defend "the dog ate my homework" on the missing hard-drives and "we were only defining processes" as they singled out a very small political group to harass should realize they are not helping the situation. This only further convinces people of the insincerity and arrogance of the IRS. Wouldn't it be nice if both parties would hold people accountable for doing wrong, clean house, and restore integrity back into our broken political system? We are watching the slow decline of a once great nation because that will not happen in our life time.

Posted by: GLL | Apr 9, 2015 8:30:20 AM

Hey, welcome to my world. Being a tax professional has gotten more and more frustrating as the tax code has gotten more and more complicated.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Apr 9, 2015 8:10:42 AM

Mr. PN....everything I posted is true and has been known as true for at least two years. People WERE asked the content of their prayers; the "True the Vote" family was harassed by bureaucracies including the FBI and ATF...Obama's minions tried to foist this off on the "Cincinnati office"...all of this has been discussed ad infinitum on Fox News and numerous conservative websites. The MSM continues to protect Obama from impeachment.

Posted by: VoteOutIncumbents | Apr 9, 2015 8:01:49 AM

Once there was an agency that did a fairly decent job of applying the laws uniformly. It wasn't very popular because, after all, its purpose was to take your money at the point of a gun, albeit lawfully. Still, it was acceptable.

Then, we elected a President who joked about auditing his enemies. The agency heard that joke and took it seriously.

The first time someone at the IRS targeted conservatives while giving liberals a pass is when the IRS had an opportunity to correct itself. It failed. Accordingly, I feel not one shred of compassion for all the IRS workers who are unhappy.

Posted by: Mike in Keller | Apr 9, 2015 7:50:43 AM

“You can’t turn it around the next day by saying, ‘Whoops, I take it back. It’s a really good agency, and they are doing good work.’”

The problem is that more and more people don't believe that. By the same token, you can't take back politically motivated witch hunts, extravagant parties on the tax payer dime and hiring people who don't even pay their own taxes. People have long memories.

Posted by: George | Apr 9, 2015 7:38:37 AM

"The fear in the IRS is that vilification of the service will hurt Americans’ high voluntary compliance..."

Ummm, they take most of my money up front whether I want them to or not....

Posted by: Say what now? | Apr 9, 2015 7:34:48 AM

Just think, there's some mid-level bureaucrat at IRS somewhere who has ample proof of Lois Lerner's illegal/biased targeting activities, and is willing to sit on that information because they fear the current inhabitant of the White House more than they value their own integrity or the reputation of their organization.

In the absence of Lerner's head on a pike, this is what accountability looks like. If you don't like it, blame your co-workers who are helping her cover it up.

Posted by: JamesB | Apr 9, 2015 7:19:17 AM

Spend less doing the work of the dishonest, corrupt Democrat Party and more time on your actual job responsibilities....

Just another institution which the horrid man in the White House has caused innumerable harm....Obama is destroyer....

Posted by: LogicalSC | Apr 9, 2015 7:17:55 AM

If reducing the training and travel budget by 54 million " might not sound like much," then spending 20 million trying to get to the bottom of the scandal certainly doesn't.

Posted by: Cecil Turner | Apr 9, 2015 7:16:55 AM

Mr. VOI: One of the reasons it is unbelievable that your litany of evils could happen in the U.S. is quite simple. Because they didn't–at least the ones you listed have not. You have accepted as true all of the supposed evils, none of which has at any time been confirmed by any reliable source. First, although it is clear that the BOLO “victims” in the Cincinnati EO office were "slow walked" the motive you attribut to the action is entirely speculative. Every single one of the IRS employees involved in the process has testified under oath that the reasons for the “targeting” were to insure uniformity of processing in a situation where the agents were overwhelmed by the numbers of applications and lacked sufficient legal guidance in the aftermath of Citizens United. While this is not ideal, it is not corrupt or intended to impinge on anyone’s civil rights. The evil motive attributed by conservatives is entirely speculative and has no evidentiary basis. Second, as for the “content of their prayers” canard, all of the additional questions posited to the 501(c)(4) applicants were written down on official document requests. None of those document requests contains an inquiry about the content of anyone’s prayers. Last, the purported True the Vote incidents have yet to be proven by that organization or its officer. The alleged IRS, FBI, and ATF incidents have not yet transitioned from the realm of the mind of TtV’s loquacious president to the reality of the courtroom. I await proof, but I’m not holding my breath.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 9, 2015 6:14:55 AM

"The fear in the IRS is that vilification of the service will hurt Americans’ high voluntary compliance, which makes the country more financially stable than, say, Greece, where much of the population declines to pay taxes altogether. "
1) Treasury doesn't need IRS collections at all. Their pals at the Fed print money and their bankster pals buy Treasury bonds and presto change-o, Treasury has $.
2) Greece is corrupt and they don't trust the government-huh- maybe the government should seek to be, or at least seem to be trustworthy.

Posted by: Kount von Numbacrunch | Apr 9, 2015 5:58:36 AM

“Once you go in that direction, it’s not an off/on switch,” Koskinen says. “You can’t turn it around the next day by saying, ‘Whoops, I take it back. It’s a really good agency, and they are doing good work.’”
Well, it's not a good agency doing good work, and it won't improve until it's boss recognizes that.

Posted by: Kount von Numbacrunch | Apr 9, 2015 5:53:31 AM

Good. It's PAYBACK time, and the EPA's next.

Posted by: John Stephens | Apr 9, 2015 5:31:00 AM

Commissioner John Koskinen. Was there ever a more smug face for an organization that is already saddled with a poor image? Will Rogers would have hit this guy in the mouth.

Posted by: Old Gunny | Apr 9, 2015 5:11:18 AM

I'm not big on collective guilt...but where were the "good" people in the Cincinnati office when they were ordered to slow-walk the paper work on conservative groups, apparently to force them out of the '12 political cycle? How come nobody at the IRS spoke up when citizens were asked to show the "content of their prayers"? Why did not one person in government protest when the woman in Texas who was organizing "True the Vote" not only had the IRS intervene in her life but also the FBI and ATF? That THIS could happen in America is still unbelievable. The IRS should be abolished and we should move to a flat tax. These people have too much power and they have misused it. Some people need to go to prison.

Posted by: VoteOutIncumbents | Apr 9, 2015 4:58:44 AM

Did anybody find the words/phrases "turnover", "quit rate", "jobs unfilled", etc. in this diatribe? I would have thought such "unhappiness" would be leading to an unmitigated HR disaster -- the kind the first commenter fears Repblicans have brought onto the nation..

Posted by: MG | Apr 9, 2015 4:10:05 AM

The investigations into the Tea Party affair continue after almost two years and more than $20 million spent on them.

It would have been over long ago if Lois Lerner had cooperated and if management not falsely claimed that hard drive failures (whether intentional or not) meant that emails were not recoverable by any means. The IRS can't dig in its heels and then complain how long it's taking.

"It had nothing to do with the examinations where I was, but it affected the whole organization.”

This illustrates just how stupid the administration was to drag the IRS into the political thicket, notably by amending ACA extralegally and by inspiring Lois Lerner and her operation to target right wing groups for extra scrutiny, intrusive questioning, and stall tactics.

This administration damaged the credibility of the IRS as a non-partisan, non-ideological enforcer of tax law more than Nixon would have done if the IRS had been as accommodating of his partisan efforts. The front line employees pay for this stupidity.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Apr 8, 2015 7:10:33 PM

This, of course, is precisely what the conservatives have wanted from the beginning. If a foreign nation did this to us, we would send in the drones.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 8, 2015 5:49:49 PM