Federal employees at the Internal Revenue Service should expect to all return to work by July 15, the extended deadline for tax filing season and the planned date for full agency staffing, according to IRS commissioner Charles Rettig.

“We are in the process of a phased-in reopening of some of our operations, when and where it is safe to do so. In this regard, we are processing paper returns, we are tackling the backlog of mail, reopening the phone lines and adding phone line assisters,” Rettig said at a June 30 Senate Finance Committee hearing. “We are prioritizing refunds and customer service operations, as well as the health and safety of our employees and everyone that we interact with.”

During the height of the pandemic closures, the IRS was still able to process electronic tax returns through employees performing remote work, but around 10 percent of the U.S. still files their returns via paper forms.

The IRS began returning employees to the office in late April to process those returns, placing them ahead of many other agencies’ reopening plans. The agency recalled two more waves of workers across several states this month.

But a return to full staffing does not necessarily mean that all employees will be back in the office, as requirements to maintain workplace social distancing and reduce the size of employee gatherings will likely keep many telework-approved employees from returning to the office in the near future.

If successful, the IRS model of returning to full staffing while maintaining protective measures and workplace flexibilities could encourage the rest of the federal agencies to move forward with their reopening plans.

The later tax filing deadline for personal taxes also means more work for employees when they do return to the office, as the new July 15 date intersects with a deadline for corporate tax filings.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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