Fewer individual and corporate tax returns have been audited in recent years, largely because IRS doesn't have the people it needs to enforce existing tax laws while implementing new laws. As a result, billions of dollars in taxes go unpaid every year. Enforcing tax laws, a High Risk area, is critical to promoting voluntary compliance and collecting unpaid taxes.
IRS's workforce is the key to addressing its challenges. Cultivating a well-equipped and engaged workforce requires strategic human capital management that will help IRS focus its current and future hiring needs.
We made 6 recommendations to improve IRS's human capital management.
Hiring freezes, retirements, and low morale have shrunk IRS's workforce, largely in enforcement
Chart showing steadily declining staffing levels for enforcement and operations support staff fiscal years 2011 through 2017
What GAO Found
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has scaled back strategic workforce planning activities in recent years. IRS officials told GAO that resource constraints and fewer staff with strategic workforce planning skills due to attrition required IRS to largely abandon strategic workforce planning activities.
However, a number of indicators, such as increasing rates of retirement eligible employees and declining employee satisfaction, led IRS to determine that continuing to make short-term, largely nonstrategic human capital decisions was unsustainable. One way IRS sought to address these issues was to develop a strategic workforce plan and associated workforce planning initiative. Initiative implementation, however, is behind schedule and on hold. IRS attributed the delay to a combination of: 1) personnel resources redirected to implement Public Law 115-97—commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 2) lack of workforce planning skills within its Human Capital Office, and 3) delayed deployment at the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) related to a new workforce planning system. As a result, IRS lacks information about what mission critical skills it has on board, where skills gaps exist, and what skills will be needed in the future.
IRS staffing has declined each year since 2011, and declines have been uneven across different mission areas. GAO found the reductions have been most significant among those who performed enforcement activities, where staffing declined by around 27 percent (fiscal years 2011 through 2017). IRS attributed staffing declines primarily to a policy decision to strictly limit hiring. Agency officials told GAO that declining staffing was a key contributor in decisions to scale back activities in a number of program and operational areas, particularly in enforcement, where the number of individual returns audited from fiscal years 2011 through 2017 declined by nearly 40 percent.
IRS has skills gaps in mission critical occupations, and the agency's efforts to address these skills gaps do not target the occupations in greatest need, such as tax examiners and revenue officers. However, the results of an interagency working group effort that began in 2011, and was intended to address skill gaps among IRS revenue agents and other occupations with skills gaps across the government, may hold important lessons for addressing skills gaps in other mission critical occupations at IRS.
IRS's Human Capital Office has limited staffing capacity to hire employees in hard to fill positions, which holds risks for the agency's ability to implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. IRS is undertaking a variety of activities to improve its hiring capacity, but has not determined how each activity will be evaluated and will contribute to increased hiring capacity or associated outcomes. In addition, changes in the agency's hiring processes have been confusing to managers and contributed to hiring delays. Clear guidance on hiring request requirements would better position IRS to avoid the risk of hiring delays for mission critical occupations.
Why GAO Did This Study
IRS faces a number of challenges that pose risks to meeting its mission if not managed effectively. Key to addressing IRS's challenges is its workforce. Cultivating a well-equipped, diverse, flexible, and engaged workforce requires strategic human capital management.
GAO was asked to review IRS's enterprise-wide strategic workforce planning efforts. GAO assessed (1) how IRS defines its workforce needs and develops strategies for shaping its workforce; (2) the extent to which IRS identified the critical skills and competencies it will require to meet its goals, and its strategy to address skills gaps in its workforce; and (3) the extent to which IRS's Human Capital Office has the capacity to hire employees in hard to fill positions.
GAO analyzed trends in staffing across IRS and in selected mission critical occupations; compared IRS strategic workforce management processes, practices, and activities with federal regulations and leading practices; analyzed IRS documents and interviewed agency officials.
GAO is making six recommendations to IRS that include implementing its delayed workforce planning initiative, evaluate actions to improve the agency's hiring capacity, and address changes in its processes that have contributed to hiring delays. IRS agreed with GAO's recommendations. GAO also recommends Treasury clarify guidance to IRS on a forthcoming workforce planning system. Treasury agreed with the recommendation.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Internal Revenue Service||
Priority Rec.The Commissioner of the IRS should fully implement the workforce planning initiative, including taking the following actions: (1) conducting enterprise strategy and planning, (2) conducting workforce analysis, (3) creating a workforce plan, (4) implementing the workforce plan, and (5) monitoring and evaluating the results. (Recommendation 1)
|Department of the Treasury||The Secretary of the Treasury should issue clarifying guidance to IRS about the Integrated Talent Management system, including when the workforce planning and talent management modules will be deployed and available for IRS's use, the functions it will include, and how IRS's existing systems and processes within business divisions and program offices will be affected. (Recommendation 2)|
|Internal Revenue Service||The Commissioner of IRS should ensure the Human Capital Officer improves reporting for its workforce planning initiative in its bi-monthly HRstat information submissions to Treasury. The submissions should include the original implementation schedule, changes to the original schedule, delays in implementation and each of their causes, and IRS's strategy to address the causes of those delays. (Recommendation 3)|
|Internal Revenue Service||The Commissioner of IRS should ensure the Human Capital Officer and Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement report the results of efforts to close skills gaps among revenue agents, including lessons learned, that may help inform strategies for conducting skills gap assessment efforts for other mission critical occupations. (Recommendation 4)|
|Internal Revenue Service||
Priority Rec.The Commissioner of IRS should ensure the Human Capital Officer and Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement collaborate to develop a work plan or other mechanism that prioritizes and schedules skills assessments for mission critical occupations at highest risk of skills gaps, such as those identified by Treasury or where key activities have been scaled back, for the purposes of developing a strategy to close the gaps. (Recommendation 5)
|Internal Revenue Service||The Commissioner of IRS should direct the Human Capital Officer to measure the extent to which each of its activities for improving hiring capacity are effective in producing desired hiring capacity outcomes, including strategies used to mitigate hiring risks associated with Tax Cuts and Jobs Act implementation hiring. (Recommendation 6)|
|Internal Revenue Service||The Commissioner of IRS should direct the Human Capital Officer and Chief Financial Officer to issue clarifying guidance on the current Exception Hiring Process, including clarifying areas where hiring limitations that were used in previous years are no longer applicable. (Recommendation 7)|