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GAO: IRS Faced Multiple Challenges During 2021 Tax Filing Season, GAO Report: Tax Filing—2021 Performance Underscores Need for IRS to Address Persistent Challenges

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on IRS’ performance during the 2021 tax filing season. The report assessed IRS’ performance during the 2021 filing season on: (1) processing individual and business income tax returns; and (2) providing customer service to taxpayers. GAO analyzed IRS documents and data on filing season performance, refund interest payments, hiring and employee overtime. GAO also interviewed cognizant officials.

Report Findings

GAO found that the IRS faced multiple challenges and struggled to respond to an unprecedented workload that included delivering COVID-19 relief. The IRS began the 2021 filing season with a backlog of 8 million individual and business returns from the prior year. The IRS reduced the backlog of prior year returns, but in December 2021, had about 10.5 million returns to process from 2021. The IRS suspended and reviewed 35 million returns with errors primarily due to new or modified tax credits. GAO found that some categories of errors occur each year, however, the IRS does not assess the underlying causes of taxpayer errors on returns. Additionally, the IRS paid nearly $14 billion in refund interest in the last 7 fiscal years, with $3.3 billion paid in fiscal year 2021. However, the IRS does not identify, monitor, and mitigate issues contributing to refund interest payments.


GAO made six recommendations, including that the IRS should assess reasons for tax return errors and refund interest payments and take action to reduce them; modernize its “Where’s My Refund” application; address its backlog of correspondence; and assess its in-person service model. The IRS agreed with four recommendations and disagreed with two. The IRS said its process for analyzing errors is robust and that the amount of interest paid is not a meaningful business measure.