Tax Administration:

Data on the Effects of the Economic Stimulus Program on the Internal Revenue Service's Telephone Service and Costs

GAO-08-916T: Published: Jun 19, 2008. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2008.

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James R. White
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The purpose of this testimony is to provide information on the effects of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 on the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) telephone service and costs. As Congress knows, the recent passage of this legislation created additional, unanticipated workload for IRS and required IRS to act quickly to deal with the public's questions and begin issuing payments. The public's questions cover a variety of issues. Millions of Americans who otherwise were not required to file a tax return are eligible for stimulus payments and must file a return to claim their payment. The amount of payment varies from household to household. The schedule for receiving payments depends on individual Social Security numbers, and how and when people filed. As part of our ongoing assessment of IRS's tax filing season performance, requested by this subcommittee and others, we have been monitoring IRS's implementation of the economic stimulus legislation. Because of its importance, Congress requested that we provide information on the effects of the economic stimulus legislation on the public's ability to get questions answered by IRS and IRS's estimates of the costs of implementing the legislation.

Demand for telephone assistance related to the economic stimulus legislation has been unprecedented, according to IRS. For the week ending May 24, volume was almost six times greater than the same week last year. Despite reallocating staff from collections work to answering stimulus-related calls, the percent of callers waiting to speak with an assistor who got through has declined markedly to 39 percent for the week ending May 24 compared to 80 percent for the same week last year. The costs for implementing the economic stimulus legislation may be up to $862 million. IRS received a supplemental appropriation of $202 million for implementing the economic stimulus legislation. The Social Security Administration received a supplemental of $31 million and the Financial Management Service received a supplemental of $64 million. The reallocation of hundreds of IRS collections staff to answering taxpayer telephone calls will also result in up to $565 million in foregone enforcement revenue, according to IRS estimates. These costs are in addition to the significant reduction in IRS's telephone service.

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