Meet an IRS worker trying to get you your tax refund
- An understaffed and underfunded IRS is currently dealing with a backlog of unprocessed tax returns.
- Shawn Gunn is one of the tax examiners working hard to get taxpayers back.
- He said his establishment is full of stacks of paper, but lacks basics like staples.
Shawn Gunn does his best to make sure you get your tax refund.
The 30-year-old works as a tax examiner at an IRS facility in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s been around for just under a year, and his job is to fix the little mistakes people make along the way when filing their taxes, like using a nickname instead of their legal name.
“Overall the theme is chaos,” Gunn said.
Gunn is one of more than 75,000 IRS workers nationwide who experience direct stress from an understaffed and underfunded federal agency. His daily struggles mean some Americans are waiting months, even years, to pay their taxes.
For Gunn, it feels like working on outdated computers, scrambling to find basic supplies like staples, and navigating hallways full of papers.
“We need tons and tons of help,” Gunn said of colleagues he calls “people like you.” “They are doing the best they can.”
The IRS has a historical backlog of tax returns. At the end of December 2021, the IRS still had 6 million unprocessed original tax returns from past years, according to National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins.
It’s something that “frustrates” the IRS, according to Commissioner Chuck Rettig, who has repeatedly pleaded with Congress for more funding. His agency’s budget has shrunk more than 20% over the past decade, according to the Tax Policy Center. And its workload – which Collins measures in the number of returns – has increased by 19% since 2010. This falls on a workforce that has shrunk by 17%.
“Paper is the kryptonite of the IRS, and the agency is still buried there”
By the end of 2020, the IRS had five million pieces of unanswered taxpayer correspondence, according to Collins, the IRS watchdog.
“Paper is the kryptonite of the IRS, and the agency is still buried there,” Collins wrote in his annual report.
Gunn has experienced it first hand. “When I got there it was crazy,” Gunn said.
Imagine a stereotypical office full of cubicles — and then “imagine it filled with hundreds of carts all over the place,” he said, referring to the three-and-a-half-foot-tall white carts that hold stacks of papers.
The agency was always short of those carts, Gunn said. “At one point, we literally had a bunch of tax forms that we could sort through, but we didn’t have carts to put them in. So they just sat down.”
“All the hallways, all the aisles were just full of paper,” Gunn said. “You have enough room to access your desk, but that’s it.”
There are also boxes and boxes full of paper in warehouse aisles, according to a Treasury official. Without carts, workers sometimes push multiple boxes aside to get to the one that contains the return they’re looking for.
And it’s not getting better anytime soon. In written testimony to Congress, Rettig said updates to IRS computer systems have been delayed — “meaning the IRS and taxpayers must continue to use some paper-based processes.”
“In 2022, IRS employees should not manually transcribe paper returns,” Rettig said.
All that paper “can lead to significant delays.”
“We’re in this position because we haven’t had the sufficient, sustained, multi-year investment for the IT modernization needed to improve our technology and operating systems,” Rettig said.
“It is remarkable that the IRS is able to do as well as it does in an office structure that has been outdated for decades,” a US Treasury official said when asked to comment.
The IRS, instead of commenting, directed Insider to an online resource about careers with the agency.
Stacks of paper but no staples to hold them
If there was an abundance of paper at the IRS, there was a shortage of staples. “I used to spend so much time finding commodities,” Gunn said.
Then there are the computers. The IRS still uses returns processing technology that dates back to the 1960s. Gunn said the systems are “just old”; computers reminiscent of the movie “Hackers” – to dark green screen with white text. Some computers are so old that it can take up to 30 minutes to log on, according to the Treasury official.
Buried in the piles of paper are millions of unprocessed returns. Some taxpayers have previously told Insider they are awaiting returns from deceased loved ones, delaying the emotional and financial closing process.
Vince Ashcraft’s mother died in 2019. He has been awaiting his final tax return since March 2020.
“This really needs to end,” he previously told Insider. “It’s the biggest frustration of all. It’s not about the money. It’s about the inability to come to terms with the death of my mother.”
“We are people like you”
For some, not receiving tax returns is the difference between paying for childcare, groceries, and even their house. Rettig, the head of the agency, said the IRS would resolve its backlog by December. Gunn wants the services to be better for them.
“I personally do my best to make it happen,” he said. “I know a lot of people with me are doing their best to make this happen. We’re people like you. We want to make sure we live in a good country with an easy-to-follow tax system. We’re all in the same boat.
“I’ve spent hundreds of hours with IRS employees,” the Treasury official said. “These are dedicated public servants who want to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. Today, they simply don’t have the resources to do that.”
In Kansas City, employees from different departments help each other by doing rotations in the mailroom — part of the agency’s current approach to the bridge. A machine slits the bottom of an envelope and someone has to manually remove what’s inside to check payments and make sure it’s stamped and stapled correctly so it can be sent to the correct service for treatment, that is, if he can. find staples.