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Disruptions Expected As Furloughed IRS Workers Called Back To Work Without Pay


As the longest government shutdown in history drags on, it's affecting Americans in all sorts of ways. And one question is, how will it affect this tax season? Under a new contingency plan, the IRS has decided to call back about 57 percent of its workers, who have been furloughed. They'll help process tax returns when filing season starts at the end of this month, but they'll be working without pay. Well, my next guest, Danny Werfel, was the acting IRS commissioner during a government shutdown in October of 2013.

Welcome to the program.

DANNY WERFEL: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: If the IRS is calling back about 60 percent of its workers, won't things slow down? Will people have to wait longer if they're getting a tax refund?

WERFEL: I think that's certainly a risk or a possibility because the IRS workforce has not been in seat doing all the things necessary to get ready for such a large event. And with a lot of complex logistics as tax filing season, yeah, I think there's certainly risk. At the same time, having worked with them before, the IRS workforce is an impressive group. And I would not be surprised if they're able to effectively mitigate some of those issues and minimize some of those disruptions. But I would be surprised if there aren't disruptions.

BLOCK: We also have a new tax law in effect. There are going to be a bunch of changes in the tax code. A lot of people are going to have questions, and it doesn't look like they'll be able to get much assistance by phone. The walk-in centers are going to be closed, too.

WERFEL: Yeah. I mean, that's something that the IRS leadership will look at as the situation evolves in terms of what are the things that are going to absolutely stay closed as they're running through tax filing season and what they're going to potentially trigger and reopen. But, as a general principle, the IRS workers will be working to process refunds, be it taxpayer services, walk-in centers, the call centers. There'll likely be a much lower level of service than during a normal filing season.

BLOCK: And what about for the workers, the IRS workers, who'll be working without pay? What does that do to morale? You had to deal with this when you were the acting commissioner.

WERFEL: Well, I used to have this saying - you know, when you're at the IRS, we're unpopular because we're the tax collector. And so - and we're going to take a lot of criticism. But that's in the brochure. You kind of sign up for that, and you wear that with a badge of honor. But working without pay is not in the brochure. And that's something that's really difficult to get people motivated on.

But I think what you do is you remind people of how important the tax system is to the functioning of government and that if they're not there to do it, then the country will ultimately suffer for it. It's a really important organization with a really important mission. But I don't know that there's a way to fully deal with the morale issues of people that are losing a paycheck unjustifiably.

BLOCK: That's Danny Werfel. He was the acting IRS commissioner during the last government shutdown in 2013. He's now a partner with Boston Consulting Group.

Mr. Werfel, thanks so much.

WERFEL: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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