Will Government Shutdown Delay Tax Returns? IRS Will Take a Year to Return to Normal, Watchdog Tells Congress: Report

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has warned lawmakers it could take a long period for the agency to recover from the 35-day partial government shutdown that left them with millions of unanswered taxpayer letters and in desperate need of thousands of new staffers for this tax filing season, according to a report.

Two House aides told the Washington Post that the National Taxpayer Advocate, a government watchdog group that oversees the tax collector, has informed House employees that the IRS will probably take at least a year to recover from the longest shutdown in American history. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were unauthorized to disclose the numbers publicly.

Donald Trump walked back on a previous pledge not to reopen the government without funding for his border wall on Friday by announcing his backing for a three-week continuing resolution to reopen the roughly 25 percent of all government departments that were affected by the partial shutdown. Although the stop-gap measure will ensure that the approximately 800,000 federal employees, who were either furloughed or working without pay, will receive back pay, it does not include any provisions for the border wall that the president vowed to deliver during his campaign trail.

But, despite the collective sigh of relief for federal staffers who have struggled to cover their living expenses during the shutdown, Trump has warned that he may shut down the government again if a deal isn't struck during the three-week stint. "If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency," the president said. "I had a very powerful alternative, but I didn't want to use it at this time."

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Assuming the government doesn't shut down again when the stop-gap measure lapses next month, one House aide said the National Taxpayer Advocate told House staffers that it would take between 12 and 18 months for the federal agency to recover.

The Trump administration instructed over 30,000 federal staffers to return to work without pay in order to prepare for the upcoming tax filing season, while promising taxpayers they will receive their refunds on time. However, 8,000 of the staffers have claimed a hardship exemption, while another 5,700 couldn't be contacted, according to the House aides, which raises questions as to how the department will get it together in time.

In addition, IRS officials have also told House aides that they are currently dealing with 5 million unanswered letters from taxpayers caused by the closure of in-person tax assistance centers during the shutdown. The shutdown has also left 2,000 recently hired phone staffers without training.

IRS employee Donna Orton (C) holds a sign protesting the government shutdown at the James V. Hansen Federal Building on January 10, 2019 in Ogden, Utah. Getty/Natalie Behring

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Will Government Shutdown Delay Tax Returns? IRS Will Take a Year to Return to Normal, Watchdog Tells Congress: Report | U.S.