Watchdogs

Watchdog priorities back up IRS request for more staff

Workforce management is a priority problem facing the Internal Revenue Service, including the need to close skills gaps in critical parts of the agency, according to a June 14 Government Accountability Office report.

The report references the watchdog’s March 2021 high risk findings, which categorized the enforcement of tax laws as a critical issue facing the federal government at large. And while that report found that there is sufficient leadership commitment to better enforcing tax law, the agency lacks the personnel capacity to do so.

GAO’s categorization of such a deficit as high risk to the government lends weight to the Biden administration’s recent budget request to significantly increase the IRS budget and staffing levels over the next few years.

From 2011 to 2019, the IRS has not been able to hire the same number of people who left the agency that year, with the agency bringing in barely half the number of new hires as lost employees in 2012.

And though hiring at the IRS is on the upswing in the last year, not all of the new hires have gone to areas that bring in the most revenue at the agency.

“IRS prioritized hiring for information technology and cybersecurity areas but still faces mission-critical gaps for enforcement staff,” GAO’s March High Risk List stated.

In fact, from 2011 to 2019, the IRS hired less than half of the number of investigation employees as it lost each year.

In 2015, the agency hired just three new employees in the investigation category while losing nearly 200.

That lack of enforcement staff has led to the agency being “outgunned” in the fight to prevent tax fraud and evasion, according to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

GAO has over the past two years encouraged the IRS to develop a plan that identifies such gaps and workforce needs, with goals for addressing those challenges in the coming years.

“Our review found IRS is on schedule to implement the workforce planning initiative and have a process in place to monitor and evaluate the results by December 2021,” the report said.

The IRS knowing what kinds of employees it needs can only go so far, however, as Congress must authorize the funds to hire significantly more people, and Rettig has also called for greater direct hire authorities so that the agency can bring in qualified candidates more quickly.

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