The IRS has not released its shutdown contingency plan yet, but it has historically been among the most aggressive federal agencies in curtailing operations when federal funding lapses.
The IRS chief counsel, the official who interprets tax law for the agency, has consistently held that government workers can remain on the job during shutdowns only if their duties protect the government, as opposed to individuals. That means ordinary taxpayers could be more exposed to financial hardship.
For example, when the government shut down for 35 days in late 2018 and early 2019, employees from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, the agency’s internal consumer rights watchdog, could open mail only in search of checks payable to the government, the service reported. It could not conduct case work or help resolve taxpayer disputes, its fundamental purposes.
Furthermore, at the start of that shutdown, the roughly 12 percent of IRS employees who remained on the job couldn’t answer taxpayer phone calls, issue tax refunds, release liens and levies or complete a bevy of other taxpayer services, the service reported. As the shutdown dragged on closer to the filing season, which begins around Jan. 1 each year, the tax agency exempted more employees and returned thousands of staffers to work answering phones and disbursing refunds.