The Internal Revenue Service sent out an announcement Wednesday saying that budget sequestration is forcing it to close for business on five days this summer — even though the tax collector’s budget was increased last year and is set to increase in 2014.
“Due to the current budget situation, including the sequester, all IRS operations will be closed” on May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and Aug. 30, the IRS wrote in a statement. “This means that all IRS offices, including all toll-free hotlines, the Taxpayer Advocate Service and the agency’s nearly 400 taxpayer assistance centers nationwide, will be closed on those days. IRS employees will be furloughed without pay. No tax returns will be processed and no compliance-related activities will take place.”
Sequestration — a 2.4 percent reduction in the rapidly increasing rate of federal spending growth — has been blamed for a variety of federal slowdowns since it went into effect in March. The Obama administration has alleged that inconveniences in air travel were due to Transportation Security Administration staffing decisions, and more recently had to back off a plan for furloughs of air traffic controllers.
President Barack Obama also came under fire for cancelling White House tours shortly after sequestration began. And in April, the U.S. Park Service posted signs at a shuttered campsite in North Carolina reading, “CLOSED: Operational Change Due to Sequestration.” (RELATED: Park Service posts ‘Due to Sequestration’ signs at closed camp)
Despite the tax agency’s claim, the IRS has not seen any actual budget cutting. The IRS budget request for 2013 came in at $12.8 billion, an increase of $944.5 million increase, or 8 percent, over its enacted 2012 budget. The service’s 2013 budget request [pdf] is $13,358,007.
The announcement comes as the IRS is under heavy fire over revelations that it targeted non-profit groups opposed to Obama for heavy scrutiny and multi-year delays in their applications for tax-exempt status.
Although sequestration — a 1986-vintage mechanism to control spending growth that Obama put in place in 2011 and congressional Republicans allowed to go forward earlier this year — is popularly described as a “budget cut,” it only reduces the baseline increase in federal spending, allowing outlays to increase at an annualized rate of about 2.2 percent.
The IRS did not respond to a request for comment. The tax collector says it may have two more furlough days before the end of the year.