IRS Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Rettig told Congress on February 23 that the backlog of 20 million unopened pieces of mail is gone.
“There were trailers in June filled (with unopened paper returns). There are none today,” Rettig said in an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee Financial Services Subcommittee.
When there was a delay in getting to a return, Rettig said that a taxpayer was credited on the date the mail was received, not the day the payment was processed.
The IRS leader stated that virtual currency, which is designed to be anonymous, has probably significantly increased the amount of money taxpayers owed but have not paid since the last formal figure of $381 billion was estimated in 2013.
To close the gap between money owed and money paid, Rettig said there has to be an increase in guidance as well as enforcement. “The two go together,” said Rettig, who pointed out that the IRS must support the people who are working to get their tax payments right as well as working against those who are trying to thwart the agency’s efforts.
Rettig cited high-income/high-wealth taxpayers, including high-income non-filers, as high enforcement priorities. “We have not pulled back enforcement efforts for higher income individuals during the pandemic. We can be impactful,” said Rettig. He added that the IRS is using artificial intelligence and other information technology (IT) advances to catch wealthy tax law and tax rule breakers. “Our advanced data and analytic strategies allow us to catch instances of tax evasion that would not have been possible just a few years ago,” said the IRS leader.
Rettig contended that the agency’s IT improvement efforts are being hampered by a shortage of funding. According to Rettig, three years into a six-year business modernization plan, the IRS has received half of the money it requested from Congress for the initiative.
One of the impacts of the pandemic on the IRS and the taxpayers and tax professionals it serves, said Rettig, is the average length of phone calls has risen to 17 minutes from 12 minutes because the issues have been more complex.
On another issue related to COVID-19, Rettig said the IRS has been diligently working to alert taxpayers and tax professionals to scams related to COVID-19, especially calls and email phishing attempts tied to the Economic Impact Payments (EIPs). He said people can reduce the chances of missing their EIP payments through lost, stolen or thrown-away debit cards by filing their tax returns electronically.
The Commissioner told the panel that the delay in starting the tax filing season this year will not add to any additional delays to refunds on returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC).
Rettig also noted that taxpayers who interact with an IRS representative now have access to over-the-phone interpreter services in more than 350 languages.