An actual IRS call center in Andover, Mass.
Photograph by Mary Knox Merrill—Christian Science Monitor/Getty
By Jonathan Chew
March 25, 2016

Those calling the Internal Revenue Service might think it’s an exercise in self-inflicted cruelty, but wait times this tax season has dropped by more than half.

In the first week of March, the average wait time is at around nine minutes, down from the usual 21 minutes — an estimated 57% improvement, according to The Wall Street Journal. The IRS has also answer 73% of calls on its toll-free telephone lines, more than double what it did in 2015, according to agency data.

The improvement can largely be linked to a much-needed hike of $290 million in funding to the IRS last December, used for fighting fraud and “taxpayer services to ensure that the agency responds to taxpayer questions in a timely manner,” according to the House Appropriations Committee summary.

 

However, the agency still faces monumental challenges, as Fortune details in our April 2016 story. Budget cuts have produced customer service ramifications—at his annual speech at the National Press Club on Thursday, IRS commissioner John Koskinen said only 47% of those who call the agency this year will get through to a live person.

In her annual report to Congress, National Tax Advocate Nina E. Olson said that even with individual tax return e-filing rates increasing from 54% to 85% over the last decade, taxpayer calls actually grew by 59%, still requiring live help to solve complex tax problems. And while tax season usually results in better service, the steady decline in the number of employees in the agency means the agency plans “to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face service,” writes Olson.

 

Koskinen has consistently highlighted that any further constraints on the agency’s budget will severely impact its service. “Further cuts, with the increasing responsibilities we face, threaten to destroy the ability of the IRS to discharge its fundamental responsibilities,” he said in his National Press Club speech last year.

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