On day two of the federal government shutdown, taxpayers and tax professionals discovered most IRS employees furloughed and unavailable to answer questions, hold meetings or conduct business (TAXDAY, 2013/10/01, I.1). Other offices of the Service are open with minimal staffing and limited interfacing with customers. Some online and automated functions, including Free File and the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), are operating as usual.
The government shutdown comes just two weeks before the October 15 filing deadline for taxpayers who requested a filing extension. A few days before the shutdown, the IRS reported that many of the more than 12-million taxpayers who requested an automatic six-month extension had yet to file (IR-2013-77; TAXDAY, 2013/09/26, I.1).
When government operations resume, it would be very helpful for the IRS to offer extended hours for the practitioner hotline and dedicate additional staff for the hotline, Melissa Labant, CPA, director of Tax Advocacy, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), told CCH. “October 15 is a significant deadline for CPAs and taxpayers.”
The Service’s toll-free telephone assistance numbers for individuals (800-829-1040) and businesses (800-829-4933) are not being staffed during the lapse in appropriations. Voice messages explain that, because of the current budget situation, all IRS offices are closed and the Service will resume normal operations as soon as possible. The voice messages also remind taxpayers on extension that they have an October 15 deadline to file returns and pay any taxes due. Similar voice messages are heard on the toll-free number for assistance for exempt organizations, retirement plan administrators and government entities (877-829-5500), and the toll-free e-Help Desk number (866-255-0654).
Before the lapse in appropriations, the IRS instructed taxpayers to keep filing returns and making deposits as they are required to do so by law. The IRS will accept and process all tax returns with payments, but will be unable to issue refunds during the government shutdown, the Service reported on its website. The IRS also encouraged taxpayers to file returns electronically.
“I am keeping my fingers crossed that IRS Modernized eFile [MeF] operates smoothly during this busy season,” Labant told CCH. “It is very problematic for practitioners when MeF is down.”
Taxpayer Assistance Centers
All IRS taxpayer assistance centers are closed during the lapse in appropriations. Taxpayers going to assistance centers in person and contacting assistance centers by telephone are informed that the offices are closed and employees will resume work when funding is available.
Free File Alliance
The IRS Free File Alliance (a consortium of tax return-preparation companies) is available during the shutdown, the IRS reported. Free File is generally open to taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $57,000 or less for 2012. The customer service functions of the return-preparation companies would presumably be unaffected by the government shutdown.
EFTPS is operating without interruption, the Treasury Department reported. The department advised taxpayers to make their tax deposits and payments according to their normal schedule. Taxpayers can schedule payments 24/7 and can enter payment instructions up to 120 days in advance for businesses and 365 days for individuals.
The IRS news and tax pros feeds on Twitter both appear to be offline. No new postings have been made to the feeds since the start of the government shutdown. The IRS Return Preparer Office’s social media page was updated on October 1 to inform practitioners about the lapse in appropriations and also the continuing availability of the PTIN online registration system (TAXDAY, 2013/10/01, I.1).
In 2011, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) developed an electronic filing system for Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). On its website, FinCEN reported FinCEN E-Filing, FinCEN Query and many programs will operate as usual during the lapse in appropriations. However, updates to the website will be delayed or infrequent, FinCEN added.
The IRS is currently operating under a Contingency Plan developed by the Treasury Department (TAXDAY, 2013/09/30, T.1). The Contingency Plan describes IRS actions and activities for one to five business days triggered by a lapse in appropriations. If the government shutdown continues beyond five days, the IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support will (through the IRS Human Capital Officer) reassess activities and make any necessary adjustments of personnel, the Treasury Department explained.
By Brant Goldwyn, Jennifer Rodibaugh and George L. Yaksick, Jr., CCH News Staff