IRS to fast-track 10,000 hires to deal with backlog

The IRS intends to use an accelerated hiring process to hire about 10,000 workers to process tax returns and manage taxpayer accounts, according to a union that represents Service employees and others. federal agencies.

National Union of Treasury Employees (NTEU) National President Tony Reardon said in a statement that the NTEU has been informed that the IRS has been granted direct hire authority for approximately 10,000 entry-level positions. in its bid processing and account management functions.

The expedited process is apparently intended to “address concerns that the agency’s hiring process is difficult and slow,” Reardon said in the statement. “It is clear that understaffing in these areas is contributing to the backlog in processing tax returns and taxpayer correspondence.”

If successful, the plan appears capable of assisting the IRS in its daunting task of clearing an unprecedented backlog of prior-year returns and related correspondence as it handles the current filing season, which imposes its own major challenges, including new issues for the 2021 tax year in matching advance child tax credit payments taxpayers receive with the full-year credit to which they are entitled.

As of last month, the backlog included 17.6 million tax returns and nearly 6 million items of taxpayer correspondence, according to testimony by National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins before the Senate Finance Committee on February 17. . on the number of paper returns taxpayers file in the future, Collins said last week in an AICPA online town hall. The IRS announced a “reinforcement team” of employees reassigned to its accounts management function to tackle the backlog.

Also last month, the IRS canceled plans to close its processing center in Austin, Texas, by 2024 as part of a plan to consolidate its processing of paper returns. The reversal came shortly after a letter from members of Congress questioned the strategy and an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also raised concerns, in light of the overloaded and aging persistent inventory of the Service’s unprocessed paper returns.

If hired at short notice, 10,000 employees would greatly outnumber the surge team of approximately 1,200 reassigned workers. In 2020, the number of full-time equivalent positions in the IRS was about 75,700, according to the latest IRS data book figures, for fiscal year 2020. Nearly 25,000 of them were in filing and accounting services.

Hiring under the authority could be spread out over the next 20 months, during which the IRS expects many retirements and other new openings, so it’s unclear to what extent, if any. if necessary, the staff of the IRS would increase. The direct hiring authority would last until Dec. 31, 2023, according to Reardon’s statement. The statement also said the union supports the strategy “on a limited basis such as this to address the critical need to fill entry-level positions to help reduce the backlog.”

In testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, Collins said the IRS recently announced it had 5,000 vacancies, 179 of which had been filled as of mid-February. Onerous hiring requirements were part of the problem, Collins said in his 2021 Annual Report to Congress, in which she ranked recruiting, hiring, and training at the IRS as the second of the 10 most serious issues facing taxpayers. She has long advocated direct hiring authority for the Service. It currently takes the IRS about three months to hire a new person, from advertising a position, taking applications and running security checks, she told the Finance Committee of the Senate during the February 17 hearing.

In addition, she said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee Oversight Committee on Feb. 8, low wages are also part of the problem, with bid-processing staff typically offering a annual starting salary less than $25,000.

“In this economy, it’s no surprise that the IRS is struggling to find enough applicants for suitable employment,” she told representatives.

The IRS had requested the direct hire authorization in response to Collins’ recommendations earlier, but the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) considered the request but did not act on it in August 2021, Collins said in its annual report.

An IRS spokesperson declined to comment Monday on whether the Service has now obtained direct hiring authority, which expedites normal procedures to help federal agencies meet hiring needs in the event of a severe shortage of applicants. employment or meet other critical hiring needs, according to the OPM.

Specifically, the Direct Hire Authority allows agencies, after giving public notice, to hire any qualified candidate without having to meet certain competitive ranking and scoring requirements or give preference to certain veterans of the forces. armies and their unmarried widows or widowers. It also allows agencies to waive the “rule of three,” which requires them to hire from among the top three available candidates assessed and referred by a review bureau.

The NTEU represents employees not only of the IRS and other Treasury offices and bureaus, but also of 34 federal departments and agencies covering a wide range of government functions.

The AICPA continues to advocate for better IRS services; visit the webpage describing AICPA’s advocacy efforts to learn more.

— To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Paul Bonner at [email protected].

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