On March 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the unemployment rate had edged down to 7.7% for February. That’s good news compared to the high of 10.1% registered back in October, 2009. But unemployment is still unacceptably high, and surveys show Democrats and Republicans alike are citing jobs as our most pressing problem.

You might think that with jobs still scarce, employers would have their pick of applicants. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that some employers are requiring bachelors degrees for positions like file clerk, dental hygienist, cargo agent, and claims adjuster that don’t require college-level skills.      Nevertheless, there’s one pretty important organization who’s having trouble with jobs – and that employer, surprise surprise, is our old friend the IRS. It’s a cushy enough gig – air-conditioned offices, great holidays and benefits, no heavy lifting, and flexible schedules that let you hit the road before traffic gets ugly. So, what’s the problem?

On January 13, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administrations (“TIGTA”), an independent board assigned to oversee IRS operations, issued a riveting report with a can’t-miss title: “Improvements Have Been Made to Address Human Capital Issues, but Continued Focus is Needed.” (Seriously, if John Grisham could write like this, he’d have a real future.) It turns out the IRS has addressed most of the issues TIGTA identified four years ago in their last “human capital” audit. But there are still real problems, even in today’s “seller’s market” for jobs:

  • Total employment is down 9%, from 107,622 at the end of FY 2010, to 97,717 at the end of FY 2012. Simple common sense says that fewer people processing more tax returns means more problems.
  • Pending retirements are poised to gut senior staff like a trout. 48% of today’s executive managers, 37% of field staff, and 31% of nonexecutive managers will be eligible for full retirement by the end of next year. This lack of experienced leadership will reverberate throughout the organization.
  • It takes the IRS an average of 30 days to approve filing open positions, and 54 days to hire anyone from outside the organization. That’s down from 157 days in 2009, but still frustratingly long in today’s environment.
  • New hires report they aren’t getting enough coaching and mentoring. That means the new kids on the block will be even less effective at cutting through the red tape and bureaucracy!

We realize you might think “sequestering” the IRS is a good thing. But the IRS is facing real challenges, and we’ll all be in trouble without experienced leadership at the helm. The tax code is getting more complicated. (“Obamacare” alone includes 42 provisions that add to or amend the tax code, including eight that require the IRS to build new processes that don’t exist within current tax administration.) And the IRS is under increasing pressure to stop billions of dollars in fraudulent or improper tax refunds due to erroneous claims or identity theft. How can they succeed with their most experienced staffers fleeing like lemmings?

What’s the bottom line? “TIGTA made no recommendations in this report; however, key IRS management officials reviewed it prior to issuance.” Comforting, right?

Dealing with the IRS is never fun. Fortunately, you’ve got us here, to fight on your behalf even as the fight gets harder. Let us worry about IRS staffing for you – and remember, we’re here for your family, friends, and colleagues, too.

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