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How does the government shutdown impact operations at the IRS?

Anyone that has recently called the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for assistance with tax filings likely received an automated message. Due to the current, partial government shutdown, a message would state “live telephone assistance” from the IRS “is not available at this time” and likely will not return until the government reinstates full operations.

What happens in the IRS during the shutdown? Like other federal agencies, the IRS is operating on a reduced staff. Of the almost 80,000 employees who regularly report to work, approximately 9,950 are “excepted” from furlough. These individuals include those funded through advanced appropriations, those who perform tasks “necessary for the safety of human life or protection of government property,” and the short-term exception of those employees needed to bring about an orderly “closedown” of the office.

The federal agency revised its contingency plan for the operations of this reduced staff in the event of a government shutdown in November of 2018. The plan includes guidance in this situation, clearly listing the agency’s top priorities during the shutdown.

These priorities focus primarily on checking the mail for any payments made by taxpayers and protecting the statute of limitations from expiration in collection and assessment cases. The contingency plan also notes the IRS should keep the computer systems running in preparation for the 2018 filing season and continue implementation efforts for the tax reform passed with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

What does this mean for taxpayers? The shutdown will likely increase the difficulty of the upcoming filing season, which was already expected to be a challenge due to the TCJA. Taxpayers should also note the government will continue to collect taxes and build cases against those who the government has accused of tax crimes during the shutdown.

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