Help Wanted

3/25/2013

On March 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate had edged down to 7.7% for February. That's good news compared to the high of 10.1% registered back in October, 2009. But unemployment is still unacceptably high, and surveys show Democrats and Republicans alike are citing jobs as our most pressing problem.

You might think that with jobs still scarce, employers would have their pick of applicants. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that some employers are requiring bachelor’s degrees for positions like file clerk, dental hygienist, cargo agent, and claims adjustor that don't require college-level skills. But there's one pretty important organization that’s having trouble with jobs — our old friend the IRS. It's a decent enough gig — air-conditioned offices, great holidays and benefits, no heavy lifting, and flexible schedules that let you hit the road before traffic gets ugly. So, what's the problem?  

On January 13, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administrations ("TIGTA"), an independent board assigned to oversee IRS operations, issued a riveting report with a can't-miss title: "Improvements Have Been Made to Address Human Capital Issues, but Continued Focus is Needed."

It turns out the IRS has addressed most of the issues TIGTA identified four years ago in their last human capital audit, but there are still real problems, even in today's seller's market for jobs:  

  • Total employment is down 9%, from 107,622 at the end of FY 2010 to 97,717 at the end of FY 2012 (no wonder Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen continually reports poor customer service at the IRS - simple math shows that fewer people processing more tax returns means worse service).
  • Pending retirements are poised to do serious damage to IRS staff levels, especially to senior management. 48% of today's executive managers, 37% of field staff, and 31% of nonexecutive managers will be eligible for full retirement by the end of next year. This lack of experienced leadership will reverberate throughout the organization.
  • It takes the IRS an average of 30 days to approve posting open positions, and 54 days to hire anyone from outside the organization. While that's down from 157 days in 2009, it’s still frustratingly long in today's environment.
  • New hires report they aren't getting enough coaching and mentoring. If the goal is to improve IRS services to taxpayers, having under-trained staff is not going to help.

While in a perfect world we wouldn’t want to have much use for the IRS, the fact is we need the organization to be in tip-top shape to deal with our economy and all its challenges, and we'll all be in trouble without experienced leadership at the helm. The tax code is getting more complicated, and the IRS is under increasing pressure to stop billions of dollars in fraudulent or improper tax refunds due to erroneous claims or identity theft. They need to be adding staff, not losing them.  

With the IRS facing serious internal struggles, including poor customer service ratings and a fast-approaching exodus of senior staff, it’s more important than ever to make sure you are tax compliant and prepared in the event of an audit. The best defense against dealing with an overworked and understaffed IRS is to have an experienced audit representative navigating the system on your behalf.