IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said that his agency’s resilience and innovation during the challenges of the pandemic invoke pride and underscore how IRS must continue modernization of its systems while discovering bold new ways in which to forge partnerships and help more people.
Rettig told the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s IRS Days 2022 that history will look well upon the pandemic-era performance of his agency for “what it and partners were able to accomplish during one of the most difficult times of our lives” along with its employees – who, during the pandemic, made record contributions to the same food banks that helped IRS staff make it through the 2018-19 government shutdown.
“Not everybody gets that chance to be part of a team to make it better for Americans,” he said, stressing, “I could not be more proud of the IRS.”
The lockdowns of COVID-19 made IRS staff work in new, socially distanced ways. “This is not the IRS of 5 or 10 years ago – not even the IRS of 2 years ago,” he said, noting how the agency shifted to a more virtual environment faster than would have been possible without the necessity brought about by the pandemic.
The agency also has been uniquely positioned to help Americans through its distribution of government payments intended to give many a financial boost during COVID-19’s economic hardship. “We do interact with more Americans than any other public or private organization,” the commissioner noted.
“$1.5 trillion went out into the economy to help real people in need,” he said. “In most cases people looked in their bank account and the money was there.” Rettig said he believes that type of distribution responsibility will stay with IRS in the future.
The commissioner praised the collective efforts of more than 18,000 community service partners who were able to help get those payments to people in dire straits, including getting funds to the homeless in an unprecedented way through shelter partnerships. That outreach underscored that “tax administration is not limited to filing tax returns… we are much more than a brick-and-mortar tax agency.”
Rettig called on potential partners to embrace this coalition and “help us help others.”
“If you have ideas where things can get better, reach out to anyone at the IRS,” he said. “…We can get the message out because we interact with so many people.”
Rettig, who was confirmed to his role in September 2018, recalled how he “walked into a very risk-averse agency,” even though “risk aversion and getting the job done don’t necessarily go together.”
“We are in a lane where we want to be innovative,” he stressed, from technology to taxpayer outreach. “We are passionate about trying to help people – getting people into compliance, but I have more avenues for outreach at IRS and so do you.”
The commissioner said industry is a critical partner as “serving the people takes more than what any single federal agency can do.”
“We can’t do it without you,” he said.
In March 2021, the IRS launched its first 1040 form in Spanish along with making some IRS publications, tools, social media, and website information available in additional languages. Last year, non-English pages on the IRS website were viewed about 90 million times. Rettig said the agency is moving forward with even more language offerings to reach even more taxpayers.
The IRS is also moving forward on its Taxpayer First Act improvements, getting rid of duplications and increasing efficiency to produce a more streamlined experience for both customers and employees. Industry can “help us to figure out how to build new systems where we need it” as the agency charts new strategic directions.
Rettig stressed that while the agency has made impressive progress toward modernization and improving the customer experience – especially when dealing with the constraints of a pandemic – the IRS wants to know “where we might not have gotten it right” and possible solutions.
“Innovation, creativity is highly valued by this IRS,” he added.