Complaints about long lines and poor customer service at the local Internal Revenue Service office prompted U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, to recently visit for a firsthand look at the problems.
The IRS acknowledges that the tax assistance center is understaffed and that’s its caseloads have been exacerbated by the closing of a separate office in Athens, leaving the Gainesville branch, located on Oak Street, as the only location to serve more than 700,000 residents throughout Northeast Georgia's 9th Congressional District.
And the agency plans to soon implement appointment scheduling for customers rather than the first-come, first-served approach.
But IRS officials point the finger for these problems at massive budget cuts made by Congress.
Bruce Friedland, spokesman for the agency, said federal budget cuts to the tune of $900 million since 2010 have resulted in 17,000 fewer employees nationwide.
In Georgia, the IRS has seen the loss of more than 2,000 full- and part-time employees over the last five years, a 32 percent drop from a high of 6,376 full- and part-time employees in 2011.
Friedland said the IRS is implementing an appointment-service model in all tax assistance centers by the end of the year “to help eliminate the lines that often frustrate taxpayers.”
At the Gainesville office, customers can make payments, inquire about a notice, ask about a refund, get a transcript of their tax return or pick up a tax form.
Gainesville is scheduled to move to appointment service in October, according to Friedland.
IRS data indicates that approximately half of taxpayers who call to make appointments are helped without needing to go into a tax assistance center, either over the phone or online, according to Friedland.
“While most people going to a TAC can get the answers or help they seek on IRS.gov, the IRS is committed to serving all taxpayers, including those who require face-to-face assistance,” Friedland said. “Previous experience has shown us that the appointment-service approach is eliminating long lines and helping taxpayers get the assistance they need, when they need it, using the most convenient service channel.”
Collins, in a letter to IRS officials dated Aug. 12, expressed skepticism about the agency’s plans to rectify the problems.
When he visited the Gainesville office one morning, Collins said he found a woman standing in line since 4 a.m., while others were turned away even before the branch opened as demand surpassed resources.
“Scheduled appointments will not make up for poor customer service or system failures,” Collins wrote in the letter.
Collins said the tax code has become too complex and burdensome for the average taxpayer and that ending bureaucratic red tape would free up resources to better serve customers.
“It is clear that there need to be some significant changes to improve efficiency and customer service at this branch,” Collins said in a separate statement to The Times. “It is unacceptable that this branch is staffed by a single employee, when clearly more are needed to handle the volume of those who need help.”