The IRS has implemented staff reductions and closed taxpayer assistance centers in response to the rapidly-expanding coronavirus disease, which hit the U.S. in the middle of the spring tax filing season. The IRS seeks to balance its employer responsibility to protect employees with its national responsibility to the country’s taxpayers.
On March 19, 2020, the IRS addressed employee concerns by granting more flexibility in remote work and leave requests. The IRS encouraged eligible employees to work remotely and take their computers and equipment home. At the time, this option was not extended to non-eligible employees involved in mission critical operations, such as those in return processing centers, call centers and taxpayer assistance centers. However, on March 20, 2020, following the Center for Disease Control guidance with respect to social distancing, the IRS has taken further action.
The IRS has now temporarily closed all taxpayer assistance centers. Taxpayer assistance centers allow taxpayers to schedule face-to-face appointments for direct assistance in resolving their tax issues. The IRS has also suspended walk-in services with the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which is an independent section of the Service that works with the IRS to resolve disputes on the behalf of taxpayers.
In addition, the IRS has implemented a 50% staff reduction in return processing centers and call centers. As these new procedures are implemented, calls to the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) phone line are currently going unanswered. The PPS is staffed with specially trained IRS representatives who work directly with tax practitioners operating on behalf of taxpayers. The outgoing message on calls to the PPS line indicates that live assistance is currently unavailable and that normal operations will resume as soon as possible. No other information is provided so there is no indication whether the outage will last hours, days or weeks.
These additional steps are intended to serve as a temporary measure to protect employees and address their concerns. It is currently unknown whether employee reduction will significantly curtail the Agency’s ability to process tax returns and refunds. To address the impact of COVID-19, the IRS recently extended the April 15th filing due date for tax returns and tax payments to July 15th. Please read our tax alert about IRS Notice 2020-18. This extension could help to mitigate any negative impact surrounding the Agency’s staffing reductions.