Approximately 200 million people deal with the IRS each year, and more than 100 million phone calls pour in on an annual basis. A decade ago, the vast majority of callers -- 87 percent -- could expect that a) someone at the IRS would answer the phone and b) they'd be kept on hold about 2.5 minutes, on average.
Not so in 2015. This year about half of all callers, and perhaps as few as 43 percent, will be lucky to get through, Olson stated. Those who do succeed are likely to stay on hold for 30 minutes on average.
Any questions about the tax code, which Olson describes as "overwhelming in its complexity," had better be simple. During the filing season, the IRS "will not answer any questions except 'basic' ones," she said. And once filing season ends, Olson reported, "it will not answer any tax-law questions at all." That will affect any of the 15 million taxpayers who file their returns later in the year, and who have questions about it.
Other collateral damage includes help for low-income, disabled and elderly filers. In fiscal year 2004, the IRS assisted taxpayers in preparing 500,000 returns; this year the IRS "has eliminated return preparation completely," Olson said.