IRS chief: Obamacare to blame for poor customer service and data hacks
In recent months, the IRS has pled poverty when lawmakers have asked about complaints of poor customer service. They say that continued underfunding of IRS operations is the reason that 9 million customer service calls went unanswered at the agency.
The excuse given by IRS chief John Koskinen is that the agency has to ensure enforcement of Obamacare – a misleading excuse.
"Congress, as I noted in my testimony, has underfunded … the Affordable Care Act," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a panel of the House Appropriations Committee. "That does not remove the statutory mandate we have that we have to implement the act."
Koskinen delivered his remarks in response to a question from Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who pointed out that Congress had "increased funding specifically for taxpayer services" in 2014 and 2016.
Koskinen said it didn't matter where Congress intended the money to go, explaining the agency had pulled funding for customer service and cybersecurity in order to ensure compliance with the ACA.
"As I said two years ago, at the continued level of underfunding, the things that were going to suffer were going to be enforcement, taxpayer service, and ultimately … information technology," Koskinen said.
More than eight million phone calls to the agency's customer service line went unanswered in the last filing season. Koskinen added that the agency hasn't fully funded customer service for the last "three or four years," and that about $900 million had been pulled from cybersecurity.
The agency has been hit with at least two successful cyberattacks in the past year. A cyberattack last year resulted in the theft of data on 330,000 taxpayers from the agency's "Get Transcript" database, while an attack last week resulted in the loss of special personal identification numbers associated with 101,000.
Congress appropriates money for the IRS, but the commissioner has some discretion about how that money is spent. We've seen this before during government shutdowns, where an agency will deliberately close something popular with the public in order to put pressure on Congress.
It's misleading for the IRS chief to claim that they don't have the money for decent cyber-security. There have to be other, less critical departments they can raid to get the money they need. Do IRS managers really need to travel to exotic locations for meetings? Or be put up in four-star hotels?
For want of a few million dollars, taxpayer information has been unnecessarily put at risk. Koskinen should re-evaluate his priorities so that these hacking incidents are eliminated.