Government Shutdown: Residual Effects on IRS

The effects of the “government shutdown” have been far-reaching and I’m certain we will feel the effects for months to come, even if everything is switched back on soon.

In IRS world, even one day off tends to cause residual delays and bottle-necks.  For example, when the IRS observes a national holiday and shuts down on a Friday or a Monday, the work tends to pile up, making it more difficult for taxpayers to get help for the following couple business days.  This is especially true in the IRS call centers where they have little control over work flow.  A salaried employee, such as an IRS revenue officer, can put in extra time before a day off so that work doesn’t pile up too much.  But the work flow of an hourly call center employee is more dependent on the volume of inbound taxpayer phone calls.

The IRS always experiences high call volumes on Mondays and days following holidays because IRS problems don’t just go away on their own.  If you can’t get through to the IRS on one day, you’ll probably try again as soon as possible.  And I don’t feel like the IRS hold times have ever really recovered to what they once were before the IRS began furloughing employees earlier this year.  But now we are talking about an unprecedented closure of several days in a row (and how many more, we do not know).  I would not be surprised if the residual effects of the IRS shutdown are felt well into 2014.

Long Holiday Weekends for IRS This Year

Now that tax season is over for the on-time filers, many IRS employees can relax just a little.  And for at least 5 additional days this year they actually can relax at home . . . without pay.  Bloomberg apparently got its hands on an internal IRS memorandum informing IRS employees which days have been scheduled as furlough days this year.

The IRS furlough dates are:

  • May 24
  • June 14
  • July 5
  • July 22
  • August 30

These furlough dates were chosen to coincide with the federal holidays already on the calendar, so we will be looking at several four and five-day IRS closures throughout the rest of 2012.  I say five days because the IRS often shuts down early the day before a holiday, sometimes for computer maintenance, and sometimes so they aren’t disturbed during their potlucks.  I’ve always thought that “computer maintenance” was code for holiday party or potluck, but that’s just my slightly jaded opinion.

The IRS, as well as many other federal government agencies, is resorting to furloughs in reaction to budget reductions that took effect earlier this year.  Acting IRS Commissioner, Steven Miller, explained his reasoning for the agency-wide closures:

We came to a decision that balances our primary mission to serve the taxpayers and considers the effect on employees. We settled on having uniform furlough dates for everyone and closing down agency operations entirely. This way, the IRS can gain additional cost savings on utilities and other services in our work locations.

According to Miller, the closures will affect all local taxpayer assistance centers and call centers. should be up, but the availability of online services such as Transcript Delivery Service and other IRS practitioner tools is unknown.  And, if necessary, there may be an additional two furlough days coming in August and September.  Plan your vacations accordingly.

Avoid Calling the IRS in December

December is by far the worst time to try to communicate with the IRS about your tax debt.

The Second-Stringers

I have not noticed that the telephone wait times are much different in December. Perhaps there are more IRS representatives taking vacation in December, but many practitioners and taxpayers do the same — so increased phone traffic is not normally an issue. The IRS does a fairly good job replacing the vacationers, but I have usually found the quality of their replacements to be lacking.  If you call the IRS in December (especially late December) then there is a good chance you will be dealing with a new, inexperienced IRS agent (a “second-stringer”). Of course, a tax relief attorney will know how to use that inexperience to the taxpayer’s advantage.

IRS Computer Maintenance

The IRS information technology staff takes advantage of the holidays to do routine maintenance on IRS computer systems. And they like to get a jump on things. So, if they tell you that everything is going to be shut down on Friday in observance of Christmas, then chances are they will be up and down all day on Wednesday and completely offline by early afternoon on Thursday.

If you get through to a representative who tells you their computers have been up and down, then it might be best to put off the call for another day if possible. The problem is that you will get partway through your call and everything the representative did will be lost when the computer goes down, and you’ll have to start over again.

If you have a tax issue that can’t wait until after the holidays, it is best to enlist the help of a qualified and experienced tax professional.