The IRS is struggling to catch up with a backlog of work, and a new report fingers a surprising culprit: broken printers.
A plague of non-functioning printers and copiers is making it difficult for the agency to process tax returns and provide other types of assistance, an independent agency watchdog said Friday.
“A major concern that surfaced during these walkthroughs [of IRS offices] was a lack of working printers and copiers,” the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said.
Forty-two percent of printers for those involved in processing returns were unusable at the end of March. In the agency’s Kansas City outpost, officials are down to three working printers and “the employees we spoke with were concerned that they would have a work stoppage if these remaining devices became unfunctional.”
Some of the printers didn’t have ink and, in other cases, “the waste cartridge container is full,” the report said, noting the agency uses printers for everything from making copies of tax returns to preparing training packages for new hires.
The department began the year with 8.3 million returns from last year that still needed processing, the watchdog said. Among returns filed on paper, that represented a 1,200 percent increase from the previous year.
Broken printers are hardly the only reason the IRS has been struggling to catch up, the report said.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the agency to close offices for a time, and Democrats made a series of changes to tax law in the middle of filing season, including creating a new tax break for unemployment benefits — why the tax filing deadline this year was delayed until May 17. While IRS offices are open, they are not always operating at full capacity because of social-distancing rules.
The agency has also had trouble finding temporary workers to help out with this year’s filing season because “this seasonal work does not provide permanent employment or desirable schedules and shifts.”
The report comes as Democrats promise to shower the agency with money after years of budget cuts.
The printer problems appear to stem from the pandemic, though, rather than a lack of funding.
The agency’s contract for the printers ended last September, though “due to COVID-19, these printers remain in the Tax Processing Centers, and the IRS is continuing to use them.”
The agency signed a contract for new printers, from a different provider the following month. “However, [IRS employees] indicated that the new contractor may not have been coming into the sites to replace the old printers due to COVID-19 concerns.”
The IG added: “When we discussed the issue with IRS management on March 30, 2021, they indicated they are working with the IRS Information Technology organization to resolve the issue, and that organization has started replacing the devices.”