Originally created 12/17/05

IRS to reduce telephone help hours



WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service will reduce the time that taxpayers can get help through toll-free telephone lines next spring, shaving the operating time by three hours a day.

IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said in an interview that the tax agency needed to absorb cuts in its customer service budget, and the change saves the agency about $10 million.

"My obligation is to provide the best possible taxpayer services at a reasonable cost," he said.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she was notified Friday morning that the reduction will begin Jan. 23, just as taxpayers start working on their tax returns.

"We think this is a mistake. We think this is inappropriate for them to do," she said.

Kelley said the IRS did not hire roughly 400 temporary workers typically brought on to handle increased demand during the spring filing season.

Everson said the IRS needed to absorb a cut to its customer service budget worth about $100 million. Taxpayers should not get any more busy signals than they do now, and the agency will work to make sure taxpayers don't wait on hold any longer than they did last year, he said.

Kelley disagreed and said taxpayer service will probably suffer.

The change means taxpayers will be able to get help from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., local time, through the IRS toll-free telephone lines. IRS statistics show that about 93 percent of calls already come in between those hours.

The reduction in phone hours was one of two changes Everson wanted to make to absorb reductions in the agency's customer service budget. Lawmakers balked at a plan that would have closed numerous taxpayer assistance centers, local offices where taxpayers can get face-to-face help with tax problems.