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TaxWatch: IRS hiring spree poised to add 2,000 new employees to backlogged agency: ‘Our efforts are working’

When the Internal Revenue Service announced a hiring spree to clear a tax return backlog and get millions of taxpayers their long-awaited refund, tax officials knew they would be up against stiff competition from many other employers trying to staff up.

How’s the effort to hire 5,000 people going in today’s tight job market?

Actually, so far, so good, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told senators Thursday.

“We expect to fill that 5,000 shortly,” Rettig said, referencing the slew of jobs that include many entry-level clerk and examiner jobs with no prior tax experience needed. “We’re having quite a bit of success in our job fairs.”

That includes on-the-spot job offers to approximately 90% of the people who have shown up, he said. The IRS has made more than 2,500 conditional job offers at the end of interviews, according to Rettig’s written testimony. The pay on these jobs can range from the low $20,000s to the high $40,000s, federal salary table data shows.  The IRS is hoping to make another 5,000 hires next year too.  

Rettig said lawmakers helped out the IRS by recently giving it the power to directly hire and bring on staff in a matter of 30-45 days, instead of a bureaucratic hiring process that can drag for months on end.

Hiring is a challenge in a tight job market, but the IRS is under extra pressure to fill the roles because of the pandemic-related backlog of last year’s tax returns that are still unprocessed or need fixing. The IRS had 7.2 million unprocessed returns as of late March, agency data shows. That includes 2.7 million unprocessed tax returns received last year, Rettig told senators.

And then there’s the fast-approaching end to this year’s tax season, which ends in most places on April 18.

Through April 1, the IRS has processed more than 89 million tax returns and issued 63 million refunds for more than $200 billion, Rettig said Thursday.

Backlogs are an administrative burden for the IRS and the agency is reassigning “surge” teams to cope with the paperwork in addition to hiring additional workers.

For the taxpayers still waiting on the paper push, there can be a lot at stake.

If a refund’s due, that can be a significant amount of money making a difference in a person’s life. The average refund size on individual tax returns was $3,263 as of March 25, according to the latest data from the IRS. An unprocessed return can also hobble businesses. For example, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio recounted the story at Thursday’s hearing of one business owner who could not obtain a loan because lenders wanted to see tax return information, but the return was still being processed.

The clogged processing pipeline is one issue. Getting through to a live person on the phone at the IRS is another. Rettig said many of the people clearing the backlog on paper and correspondence would be tasked with picking up the phone.

If IRS administrators can hack down the backlog, they can increasingly get more people to answer the phone when taxpayers have questions, he said. “Our efforts are working. We are trending in right direction. During the summer you’ll start seeing the impact of this,” Rettig said.

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