Senators Braun, Boozman, Cramer, Cruz, Scott, Inhofe, and Rounds introduce the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act

WASHINGTON – Senator Mike Braun has introduced the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act that will require the IRS to prioritize federal taxpayers over representational work during tax filing season. Cosponsors of this bill include Senators Boozman (R-AR), Cruz (R-TX), Cramer (R-ND), Scott (R-FL), Inhofe (R-OK) and Rounds (R-SD). 

While President Biden has requested $80 billion for the IRS to double the workforce at the IRS, many current IRS employees are spending much of their time on the job completing tasks unrelated to their official duties, called taxpayer-funded union time. 

WHAT IS TAXPAYER-FUNDED UNION TIME?

Taxpayer-funded union time is when federal employees perform representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, federal employees performing taxpayer-funded union time are paid by federal taxpayers to do union work versus the duty stations jobs they were hired to perform. 

  • In the fiscal year 2019, 1,421 Treasury employees used taxpayer-funded union time and consumed 353,820 hours of taxpayer-funded union time.
  • Of these 1,421 Treasury employees on taxpayer-funded union time, 350 IRS employee job categories are classified as customer service representatives/contact representatives. Of these 350, 46 were greater than or equal to 80  percent TFUT hours versus overall work time.

THE IRS HAS A CUSTOMER SERVICE PROBLEM

The Taxpayer Advocate Services (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that works to identify and fix systemic problems affecting taxpayers. In the 2020 report for taxpayers, the TAS found that poor customer service and personnel problems were among the top challenges facing the IRS. 

  • In its 2020 report to taxpayers, TAS documented the top challenges facing the IRS, and many of these challenges concerned poor customer service and personnel problems.
  •  For example, one such challenge concerns telephone and in-person service that is in part due to a “lack of staff.”  The TAS found that the IRS received more than 100 million calls, but only answered 24 million; calls averaged 18 minutes of hold time, and face-to-face assistance declined from 4.4 million in 2016 to 2.3 million in 2019 and 1.0 million in 2020.
  • As another example, TAS found that while the IRS processes most amended returns in a timely manner, some returns nevertheless linger for months, generating over a million calls that the IRS cannot answer and thousands of TAS cases annually.

Given these and other challenges, the IRS should focus all available staff to the pressing needs of taxpayers, but at the very least during tax filing season.

THE IRS CUSTOMER SERVICE IMPROVEMENT ACT:

Senator Braun’s bill would prohibit staff at the Internal Revenue Service from leaving their duty stations during filing season to do taxpayer-funded union official time.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN)

“The pressing needs of American taxpayers should be the top priority for IRS staff, at the very least during tax filing season,” said Senator Braun. “While President Biden has requested $80 billion to muster an army of bureaucrats at the IRS, currently many IRS employees are spending their work time completing unrelated representational work on the taxpayer’s dime. This bill will focus all available staff to complete the duties of the positions for which they were hired, rather than union work, during tax season.”

Senator Johen Boozman (R-AR)

“Arkansans consistently express to me their frustrations with the IRS, particularly its customer service which is clearly lacking,” said Senator Boozman. “It should almost go without saying that, during tax season, IRS employees should be fully devoted to fulfilling their mission to help Americans meet their tax responsibilities. Our bill requires the agency to ensure it is prioritizing taxpayers’ needs.”

Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

“The American taxpayer expects federal employees to be using their time on the job to perform the duties they were hired by the country to do,” said Senator Cramer. “At a time when the agency is already experiencing a backlog, our bill would require IRS employees, during tax season, to complete the primary responsibilities of the positions they were hired for before they participate in taxpayer-funded union time.” 

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

“President Biden has requested $80 billion to increase the budget of the IRS, but simply throwing more money at a bloated, inefficient government agency won’t fix it,” said Senator Cruz. “Every tax season, hardworking Americans file their taxes expecting timely refunds to support their families, yet this expectation goes unmet, and refunds are held up for months. I am proud to join Sen. Braun in cosponsoring this bill to protect taxpayer funds and to ensure that the American people receive the service they not only expect but deserve.”

Senator Rick Scott (R-FL)

“Throughout my time as Governor and now as Senator, my focus continues to be on making government more efficient so Americans get the best return on their tax dollars,” Senator Rick Scott. “I’m glad to join Senator Braun to introduce the IRS Customer Service Improvement Act, which puts the needs of taxpayers first.”

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

“The federal government works for you—the taxpayer—and should accordingly prioritize taxpayer assistance over taxpayer-funded union time,” said Senator Inhofe. Federal taxpayers in Oklahoma deserve to be given all of the IRS’ attention during tax season – it’s as simple as that. I am proud to cosponsor Sen. Braun’s IRS Customer Service Improvement Act to support Oklahoma federal taxpayers and improve IRS customer service.” 

BACKGROUND:

Taxpayer-funded union time (TFUT), also known as “official time,” is when federal employees perform representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. In other words, federal employees performing TFUT are paid by federal taxpayers to do union work versus the duty stations jobs they were hired to perform.

While TFUT is authorized by 5 U.S.C. § 7131, it was intended to be limited in nature.

Instead, and as OPM noted in October 2020: “Large amounts of official time allocated to agency employees conducting activities on behalf of unions have resulted in widespread diversion of resources from agency mission-critical functions. In many cases, where agency union representatives serve as full-time union officials, agencies are no longer able to rely on employees even for a portion of their duty time, to complete the duties of the positions for which they were hired.”

Taxpayer-funded union time at the IRS:

Diversion from agency mission is particularly acute at the Treasury and the IRS, the latter of which faces systemic customer service challenges.  In fiscal year (FY) 2019, 1,421 Treasury employees used TFUT and consumed 353,820 hours of TFUT—a decrease from the FY2016 total of 481,500 hours.

  • Associated compensation costs were $17.27 million (FY2019)(a decrease of 3.1 percent from the FY2016 costs of $22.4 million). 
  •  In addition, Treasury allows labor organizations or individuals on TFUT free or discounted use of government property – the value of which at Treasury was an additional $2.5 million (FY2019).
  • Treasury also supplied “other agency expenses” valued at $343,364 (FY2019).

Of these 1,421 Treasury employees on TFUT, 350 IRS employee job categories are classified as customer service representatives/contact representatives. Of these 350, 46 were greater than or equal to 80 percent of TFUT hours versus overall work time.
 

Of these 1,421 Treasury employees on TFUT, 204 IRS employee job categories are classified as internal revenue agents. Of these 204, 12 were greater than or equal to 80 percent of TFUT hours versus overall work time.

Customer Service Challenges at IRS:

The Taxpayer Advocate Services (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that works to identify and fix systemic problems affecting taxpayers.

In its 2020 report to taxpayers, TAS documented the top challenges facing the IRS, and many of these challenges concerned poor customer service and personnel problems.

For example, one such challenge concerns telephone and in person service that is in part due to a “lack of staff.”  The TAS found that the IRS received more than 100 million calls, but only answered 24 million; calls averaged 18 minutes of hold time; and face-to-face assistance declined from: 4.4 million in FY16, to 2.3 million FY19, and 1.0 million in FY20.

As another example, TAS found that while the IRS processes most amended returns in a timely manner, some returns nevertheless linger for months, generating over a million calls that the IRS cannot answer and thousands of TAS cases annually.

  • Given these and other challenges, the IRS should focus all available staff on the pressing needs of taxpayers, but at the very least during tax filing season. 
  • While the volume of Treasury staff is small in comparison to its overall employee population (87,336 in FY2019), the agency is agreeing to official time in a manner that is not in keeping with the statute.  Federal law authorizes official time for employees representing the union in CBA negotiations.  Agencies and unions may also grant official time for other purposes, but only if “reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.”  
  • Given statutory expectations, and customer service challenges faced by the IRS, Treasury should ensure that the IRS focuses all available staff to the pressing needs of taxpayers, but at the very least during tax filing season.

The IRS Customer Service Improvement Act:  

  • Amends 5 U.S.C. § 7131 to prohibit staff at the Internal Revenue Service from leaving their duty stations during filing season to do taxpayer-funded union official time.  
  •  In other words, during IRS filing season, the priority must be serving federal taxpayers with the highest quality service and not doing representational work. 
  • Supersedes existing Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) which prevents stalling of renegotiations. Going forward CBA terms cannot authorize official time use during tax season. 

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