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IRS furloughs to begin next month, but some office closures and service shutdowns coincide with summer holidays

Creative closed sign photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr Creative CommonsIf you plan to work on taxes this summer, be it business filings or estimated taxes or finishing up your 2012 tax return for which you got an extension, mark these days on your calendar:

  • May 24
  • June 14
  • July 5
  • July 22
  • Aug. 30

The Internal Revenue Service will be shut down those days, and possibly two more days in August or September.

That's the word that went out in an email Friday from IRS Acting Commissioner Steve Miller to his employees. These are the five-for-sure days that IRS personnel will be furloughed as the agency deals with its portion of sequestration, the $85 billion in across-the-board federal spending cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year that took effect on March 1.

Furloughs delayed no more: As sequester approached, Miller announced that any furloughs would be postponed until after the April 15 filing deadline in order avoid additional complications to this crazy, delayed tax season.

But now that most of us are done with our returns, the furlough ax has fallen. 

In the email, the contents of which were made available by the National Association of Enrolled Agents, Miller told staff:

"All public-facing operations will be closed on these dates, including our toll-free operations and Taxpayer Assistance Centers. Some mission-essential IT and security personnel, who maintain systems and building safety, may need to work on these furlough days, however they will be taking furlough days on alternative dates within those pay periods. Everyone is covered by this furlough, and that means everyone from the Acting Commissioner and executives to managers and employees."

Public-facing operations. That, my friends, is IRS-speak for are all the ways you, I and tax professionals usually connect with the agency to get answers to or help with our (and clients') tax troubles. 

The furloughs mean we will be literally locked out of the IRS on those five, and maybe seven, summer days.

Piggybacking on holidays: OK, it's not the end of the tax world. It's only five days.

And the IRS planners have done a good job or aligning most of the unpaid days off with federal holidays.

The May closure day is the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. The first July day that IRS offices will be dark is the Friday after Independence Day. And Aug. 30 is right before the annual three-day weekend Labor Day break.

So the IRS essentially is taking advantage of existing holidays when many of us will be enjoying long weekends (or more) and probably not messing around with any tax tasks.

Of course, it's not good news for the workers, who will start receiving notices next week about what days they will be off the job without pay. Their summer holidays will be much less fun since they'll be losing income.

Labor's reaction: And IRS labor representatives are not happy with the plan.

"Implementation of any furlough days is a disappointing development," said National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) President Colleen M. Kelley in a statement following Miller's email to IRS staff. "Furloughing IRS employees is further evidence of the ongoing damage sequestration is causing across the country."

Kelley said that NTEU is continuing its discussions with the IRS over the furlough process with the goal of mitigating the impact on employees.

She also expressed disappointment in the plan to shut down the IRS' public services for five full days, pointing out that considerable tax-filing goes on throughout the year, including by small businesses, taxpayers who make quarterly payments, businesses operating on a fiscal year basis, estates, government entities and others.

"On these days, phones calls to the IRS will go unanswered and Taxpayer Assistance Centers across the country will have 'closed' signs in their windows," Kelley said. "I believe this is an unprecedented event that leaves taxpayers out in the cold."

Despite Kelley's hope that at least some of the sequester-imposed closures might be avoided, your best move is to note the furlough days and plan your tax work accordingly.

And, oh yeah, you can touch base with your Representative and Senators and let them know that you want them to get to work ASAP on a budget deal that could relieve some of the sequester pressure now being felt by the IRS and other federal agencies.

Closed sign photo by Alan Cleaver via Flicker

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