With apologies to Norma Desmond: The IRS is big. It’s the offices that got small.
The IRS has announced that it is making significant reductions in office space in an effort to cut costs over the next two years. The plan is to close 43 smaller offices and reduce space in larger facilities. The closures, together with those from last year, will result in more than one million square feet less of office space (the same size as Facebook’s new digs).
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said about the cuts: “Given today’s tight budget environment, we have to be willing to make the tough but responsible calls to save taxpayer dollars.”
And we’re talking big dollars: the cuts should save taxpayers $40 million.
The IRS hasn’t released a list of the offices to be closed but indicated that it would be those without taxpayer assistance centers and have fewer than 25 employees. In other words, none of the offices that are going to be closed are the ones that taxpayers rely on for walk-in one on one assistance. That should result in minimal impact to taxpayers.
The closings will instead be focused on multiple offices within the same commuting area and those that can allow for more desk sharing and increased telecommuting.
Quite frankly, I’m not so sure how I feel about the last bit. I recently dealt with an IRS rep who berated me for calling her back on her cell phone (I hit redial). Um, that’s kind of how telecommuting works, right? If you’re not at your desk, shouldn’t you be reachable? Just saying.
And just this week, our office spoke with an IRS rep who did not have the taxpayer’s file handy (I’m guessing because she was working from home).
Don’t get me wrong: I think telecommuting can make sense. When I clerked at IRS, the attorney division was doing a lot of desk sharing and telecommuting already. And it worked well, I’m guessing, because of the nature of the work that went home (largely, legal research).
But I don’t know how I feel about the possibility of volumes of sensitive taxpayer information going home with IRS agents and/or officers which I would assume what will happen if offices keep closing. I don’t know how it can’t.
I do, however, give IRS kudos for making the effort to save taxpayer dollars. We’ve heard too many mandates calling for reductions in spending and seeing no results. So, while I’m glad to see costs going down instead of up, I hope that it’s not at the risk of taxpayer privacy.