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IRS aims to hire 5,000 workers in 30 days and deploy ‘overload’ team to clear huge backlog of tax returns

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The Internal Revenue Service will launch a full press this month to tackle its massive backlog of tax returns, aiming in the next 30 days to expand the first of 5,000 job openings and add support tools high-tech customer throughout its operations, officials said. Thusday.

The tax collector will deploy a second “surge team” to sort through its backlog of 24 million returns and correspondence, reassigning 700 employees to its processing centers in Utah, Missouri and Texas. It will hire more contractors to staff the phone lines and do the office work. In recent days, it expanded customer callback features to 70% of its phone lines, a move that has already saved taxpayers 1 million hours of on-hold time.

The moves, revealed by a senior Treasury official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about them publicly, represent the agency’s most aggressive plan to dig into the massive backlog, operating result overdue due to coronavirus pandemic.

The IRS briefly sent employees home in March 2020, at the height of tax filing season, creating a cliff of filings and correspondence from which it still has not recovered. The consequences were severe for taxpayers who rely on tax credits or reimbursements for basic living expenses, and highlighted weaknesses in the agency’s staffing and 60-year-old IT infrastructure. years.

Congress is set to increase funding for the agency in its pending $1.5 trillion spending bill. The IRS will receive $12.6 billion, a 6% increase and the agency’s largest budget gain since 2001. It includes $5.4 billion for tax enforcement, with funding positioned for enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs linked to the invasion of Ukraine, and $2.8 billion for consumer services such as taxpayer assistance centers and tax clinics for low-income people .

IRS rushes to hire 10,000 workers, but giant backlog set to linger through 2022

“IRS employees have worked tirelessly to process pending returns and correspondence from taxpayers. To ensure inventory is back at a healthy level for the upcoming drop-off season, we are leaving no stone unturned – taking a holistic approach to ensuring as many employees as possible are devoting time to processing returns” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. said in a statement. “This includes hiring new employees and reassigning current IRS employees to process inventory.”

But some experts remain concerned the measures may come too late to spare taxpayers the pain associated with IRS delays. The goal of clearing the backlog is by the end of the year, officials say, who note that it will take 30 to 45 days to hire and train new staff. In total, the IRS plans to hire 10,000 employees by the end of 2023.

The IRS got permission from federal labor officials to speed up the hiring process, eliminating some screening requirements. The “direct hire” authority, approved by the Office of Personnel Management this month, will allow managers to offer offers to candidates on the spot at job fairs in Kansas City, Mo., on the 18 and March 19, in Austin on March 24 and 25. , and Ogden, Utah, on March 31 and April 1.

Officials say they are working to generate interest in the positions, emphasizing the non-salary benefits offered by the IRS and the agency’s mission. Applicants will still need to meet standard screening protocols for federal workers.

Without permission, it takes the IRS an average of 88 days to hire a worker, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate Service, and then months of training. For example, tax examiners in the Payroll and Investments Division, the agency’s largest taxpayer services section, need eight to 18 weeks of training before they can start work. Contact service representatives, the workers who answer the phone, respond to mail and record data from paper returns, need more than 37 weeks of training.

But the IRS may struggle to attract qualified applicants, experts say. The agency has lost nearly 20,000 employees since 2010, and staffing has long been one of its most pressing hurdles. The division responsible for opening paper returns and manually transcribing them into computer files lost about 20% of its staff last year to retirements and departures, two agency officials familiar with it said. with the situation.

IRS backlog reaches nearly 24 million returns, further jeopardizing 2022 tax filing season

The agency also pays well below the private sector for comparable positions. Employees who answer taxpayer questions on the phone and handle correspondence earn between $24,000 and $41,000 a year, depending on their seniority.

The Treasury official said the agency is looking at ways to attract applicants to hiring events and retain workers seeking new jobs. Proposals being considered include signing and retention bonuses, the official said.

Provisions in the spending bill, which could pass the Senate and head for President Biden’s signature as early as Thursday night, also allow the IRS to bypass certain hiring milestones to hire more senior executives to manage the underlying causes of the backlog.

A decade of underfunding has prevented the tax agency from updating core programs and the tax code — including tax increases passed by Trump-era Republicans and stimulus payments in the event of pandemic pushed by the Biden administration — and prevented the IRS from modernizing.

IRS, stuck in backlog of tax returns, abandons plan to close major processing facility

The agency’s effort announced Thursday involves recently cultivated technological tools to help prevent tax returns from adding to the backlog. The IRS began using a newly developed automated tool that corrects simple mathematical errors on filings, preventing them from being added to the backlog of documents requiring manual processing.

The agency also activated new online automated support programs, including English and Spanish chatbots and live digital support. The tools allowed the IRS to reposition employees who previously answered the phone to work on pending returns.

Tony Romm and Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

clarification

An earlier version of this story was unclear on the IRS’ hiring goals for the next 30 days. The agency aims to extend job offers to applicants, but the final hiring process will take between 30 and 45 days, officials said.

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