A government shutdown is always bad for the normal functioning of federal agencies, but the 2018 government shutdown spells disaster for the IRS, especially if it lasts for a significant amount of time.
2018 Government Shutdown Comes at the Worst Time for the IRS
What makes the current 2018 government shutdown so bad is the timing. The shutdown comes just nine days before the tax season begins. For the IRS, the tax season is always the busiest time of the year.
Moreover, this year, the shutdown also comes right after a huge tax reform passed. Many of the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 still need to be implemented, the IRS software needs to be adjusted and the employees at the Call Centers need to be prepared to answer the questions of millions of Americans about the new tax laws.
2018 Government Shutdown Comes After Years of Budget Cuts
The 2018 government shutdown also comes after many years of the IRS budget cuts. Since 2010, the IRS lost more than $900 million in funding, eliminated 18,000 full-time positions and had to implement hiring freezes. Moreover, many IRS veterans are now retiring without being able to train proper replacement. This means that the IRS is gradually losing its best, highly-knowledgeable and experienced cadres – professionals who know how to enforce tax laws in an equitable manner. This unfortunate circumstance will inevitably have a profound impact on IRS ability to properly implement US tax laws in the future.
It is not only the professionals that the IRS is losing. The long years of budget cuts dramatically reduced the IRS ability to staff its call centers. Even before the shutdown, the IRS projected that, with its current budget, it will only be able to answer at best four calls out of every ten – i.e. the IRS said that it could answer only 40% of the calls, leaving 60% of Americans without any assistance.
Furthermore, the budget cuts came at a time when there was an unprecedented explosion of new tax laws, domestic and international, which have created an enormous demand for more IRS employees. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is just the latest example of these new laws.
So far, the IRS has been able to more or less survive by cutting everything it could in the non-essential areas and relying on new technology to save costs. However, it does not appear that this is a sustainable situation in the future.
2018 Government Shutdown: Immediate Impact
The most immediate impact of the 2018 government shutdown will be the fact that only 43.5% of IRS employees will be coming to work on next week. 56.5% of the IRS workforce will be forced to stay at home.
While the IRS will continue to do “excepted activities” such as processing 2017 tax returns (this is a matter of life and death for the federal government), a number of its functions will be suspended.
Here is the list of the most common examples of the suspended activities: issuing refunds, processing of amended tax returns (Forms 1040X), conducting any audits or examinations, processing of non-electronic tax returns that do not include remittances, non-automated collections, legal counsel, planning, research, training, all development activities, most information systems functions, headquarters and administrative functions not related to the safety of life and protection of property, service center processing after the point of batching (i.e. Code & Edit, data transcription, error resolution, un-postables) and other activities. With respect to offshore voluntary disclosures, they are not likely to be processed while the government shutdown continues.
At this point, we can only wish that the government shutdown be over as soon as possible to minimize the negative impact it may have on the IRS, our nation and our fellow citizens.
Sherayzen Law Office will continue to monitor the situation.