Audrey Conklin

Fox Business

FIRST ON FOX: House Republicans in a Wednesday letter called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds in a "timely" manner and modernize its processing systems.

The letter, led by Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig comes after the commissioner said in a Jan. 22 statement that the COVID-19 "pandemic continues to create challenges" for the IRS and urged people to report the correct tax return amounts to avoid delays.

Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig that the committee indents to "conduct oversight over the IRS’s ability to complete its critical mission" to complete tax returns "and request information on what steps the IRS has taken to overcome obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and reliance on outdated technologies."

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 19: Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., speaks during a news conference with members of the GOP Doctors Caucus after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 19, 2022. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

"Despite its reliance on decades-old legacy technology systems and the fact that the majority of IRS workers continue to telework remotely, Americans expect their tax returns to be processed in a timely and efficient manner," the Republicans wrote. "[A]mericans rely on the IRS to process tax returns in a timely manner."

The IRS did not immediately respond to an inquiry from FOX Business.

In 2020 alone, the agency processed more than 240 million tax returns and issued about 122 million refunds, according to agency data.

However, the agency's staff levels are the same as they were in the 1970s despite increased demand for services, according to Business Insider. Some politicians have blamed IRS budget cuts as the reason why there was only one IRS staff member for every 16,000 calls the service received in 2021, Business Insider reported.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an office within the IRS, cited reduced staff capacity, millions of unprocessed paper returns dating back to 2020 and late-year changes to tax legislation in its review of the 2021 filing season.

At the end of the 2021 tax filing season, there were more than 35 million unprocessed returns that required manual processing — "a four-fold increase from the 7.4 million unprocessed returns at the end of the 2019 filing season," according to the TAS.

As of September 2021, the IRS was still professing 8.5 million individual returns, finance news website MoneyWise reported.

"We can understand and articulate the challenges the IRS faced over the past year, but for individuals and businesses that waited nine months, 12 months, or longer to receive their refunds, the reality of the long delays was incomprehensible and in many cases, financially distressing," TAS said in its report. "Taxpayers cannot experience similar challenges in future filing seasons. We cannot allow the agency to face the staffing and technology limitations it has experienced this past year. Americans deserve better."

Republicans noted in their letter that quick turnaround for returns is "essential for those who may be entitled to apply for other government benefits such as loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration."

The group of representatives is therefore asking the IRS for a list of "steps the IRS is taking to facilitate the smooth filing and subsequent processing of tax returns"; an "explanation on how the IRS processes tax returns filed electronically" compared to those filed manually; "the average number of tax returns received by the IRS each day during tax season"; the current number of IRS employees and their duties; an assessment of how remote work has impacted productivity; and other demands.

Republicans are asking Rettig to hold a staff-level meeting on these concerns no later than Feb. 23.