After a massive technological failure crippled Americans' ability to electronically submit their tax forms, the IRS extended the tax filing deadline by one day, so taxpayers will have until midnight Wednesday to submit their forms. The agency's systems failed on Tuesday evening for reasons that are still unclear.
IRS Acting Commissioner David Kautter briefed lawmakers on the problems Tuesday morning, and although he didn't offer any firm numbers, he said that "it could be millions" of users who were affected. The malfunction partially took down the agency's Modernized eFile System, according to the Washington Post, which allows taxpayers to file their forms electronically. The problems did not affect forms that were sent to the agency through snail mail or, alternatively, electronic forms that were submitted prior to Tuesday.
According to Politico, the eFile system went down sometime between 1:00 and 3:00am Tuesday at an IRS facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia. As a result, it was unable to process electronically-submitted tax forms.
The IRS website displayed error messages on two pages that are crucial to submitting taxes through eFile. The "Direct Pay" page, where taxpayers can transfer money from their bank account to pay for their taxes, and the "Payment Plan" page, which allows users to pay off their taxes in installments. The Direct Pay page initially displayed a confusing message stating that the system would be offline until "December 31, 9999," but that was later corrected to "This service is currently unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience."
The eFile system was restored at around 5:00pm Tuesday, according to Ars Technica, but it was offline for long enough that the agency opted to extend the filing deadline by a day. As a result, tax day 2018 will be a full three days after the standard filing deadline: April 15th, when taxes are normally due, fell on a Sunday, while April 16th was Emancipation Day.
As the Washington Post noted after Tuesday's technical failure, Congress has been gradually cutting the IRS's budget for almost a decade. Between 2010 and 2017, the agency's staff size dropped by around 18,000 people, according to the Post, and an internal report released earlier in the year estimated that the IRS has the staff to take around 60 percent of phone calls from tax filers. Since 2010, Congressional Republicans have cut the agency's budget by $1.5 billion, or 23 percent, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. President Trump released a budget outline in March that cuts the IRS's budget by an additional $239 million.
"The IRS absolutely needs more funding," said National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson." It cannot answer the phone calls it currently receives, much less the phone calls it can expect to receive in light of tax reform, without adequate funding." The National Taxpayer Advocate is an IRS official who acts as a sort of liaison between the agency and average taxpayers.
“While we don’t yet know what has caused this systems failure, the lack of Republican funding for the IRS to serve taxpayers will only compound the issue," Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden told the Post.
The IRS's same internal report found that the agency has over 60 different IT systems for processing the forms from individual taxpayers, many of which haven't been updated in decades. Two of those IT systems are almost sixty years old; according to the report, that makes them the oldest IT systems in the federal government.
The IRS said that it expects around 155 million Americans to file individual tax returns this year, including 5 million on Tuesday alone.
More to come...