Sequester Hits IRS, More than 89,000 Employees Furloughed
(WASHINGTON) -- A little more than a month into the sequester and fresh out of tax season, the Internal Revenue Service has decided to issue furlough notices to all of its employees next week.
According to an internal memo issued by Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller, "Everyone is covered by this furlough, and that means everyone from the Acting Commissioner and executives to managers and employees."
The first furlough days will include May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and August 30, with another two days possible in August or September. On these days, all operations directed at the public, including toll-free help and Taxpayer Assistance Centers, will be closed.
According to the IRS Data Book, these furloughed services were used by more than 97 million taxpayers in the 2012 fiscal year. The agency processed more than 237 million tax returns and provided $373 billion in refunds to taxpayers, while collecting $2.5 trillion for the federal government.
IT and security personnel may be required to work though the agency-wide furlough days, but will still have to include alternative off days into their schedules. Miller wrote that the chosen furlough dates were meant to ensure IRS employees would only lose one pay day within each pay period.
"We settled on having uniform furlough dates for everyone and closing down agency operations entirely," he wrote. "This way, the IRS can gain additional cost savings on utilities and other services in our work locations." He continued, "We have also worked to stagger the dates further so that there are some pay periods during the summer with no furlough days."
Like all federal employees, the IRS is also going into its third year of pay freezes, and the furlough does little to alleviate the organization's problems. To minimize employees' financial distress, the IRS plans to work with the National Treasury Employees Union to address the impact of the furlough on its staff of 89,551.
In a press release addressing the IRS furloughs and NTEU plans of action, NTEU President Colleen Kelley noted that although tax season is largely over and the cutbacks seem minimal, still "considerable tax-filing goes on throughout the year," which includes small business filing, estates and government entities.
As a long-standing advocate for ending sequestration, Kelley was vocal in noting how the sequester would affect both IRS employees and the public.
"On these days, phones calls to the IRS will go unanswered and Taxpayer Assistance Centers across the country will have 'closed' signs in their windows," Kelley said. "I believe this is an unprecedented event that leaves taxpayers out in the cold."
Congressman Charles Boustany, chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, sent a letter to Miller last week expressing his concern about the furloughs and conferences IRS employees plan to attend, with travel expenses paid by NTEU but IRS paying the staff for their time there.
"IRS employees leaving their official duties to attend union training in Las Vegas on the taxpayer's dime -- while other employees are being furloughed -- seems questionable at best," Boustany, R-La., wrote.
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