The Internal Revenue Service has released its annual IRS Data Book for 2019 with a new format that aims to showcase the IRS’s work in fiscal year 2019, along with an additional message about its response this year to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which delayed publication.
The redesigned IRS Data Book includes the usual annual set of statistical tables summarizing tax filings, revenue collections, taxpayer services, enforcement activities and agency operations. But the revamped format highlights information tables to show how the IRS does business today. In recognition of the fact that audits can take several years to complete, for example, a new Table 17a takes a long-term view by displaying both audits closed and audits in progress, tied to tax returns for tax-years 2010 through 2018. The new table also shows data based on the taxpayer’s total positive income, excluding losses, the same measure the IRS uses to assign exam codes.
This year for the first time, the Data Book also includes the number of installment payment agreements set up by individuals and businesses with the IRS. Another addition is the number of Identity Protection Personal Identification Numbers (IP PINs) issued for filing years 2011-2020 to certain victims of tax-related identity theft.
“The IRS is changing from many perspectives, and the Data Book reflects that change as well,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig (pictured) wrote in the Data Book’s introduction. “Along those lines, we’ve redesigned the Data Book for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 by reorganizing key material and adding new information. This is part of an effort to help the Data Book provide a more complete view of our extensive service and compliance operations in a clear format that is easier to use for taxpayers and the tax community.”
The Data Book complements a new IRS Progress Update, a new annual report that debuted in January.
“In presenting this information, our goal is to help everyone understand the scope of our work for the nation,” Rettig wrote. “The IRS touches more Americans than any other entity, public or private. Our employees take pride in providing top-quality service to taxpayers — helping them meet their tax obligations through clear guidance while ensuring their rights are protected. When citizens can perform their civic duty each year by preparing and filing their taxes and paying only what they should, they help fund critical aspects of the United States, ranging from schools and roads to Social Security payments and the nation’s military.”
The IRS also included its response to COVID-19 in the new Data Book. The coronavirus pandemic delayed publication of this year’s Data Book.
Rettig testified before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and talked about some of the challenges faced by his agency during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The importance of the IRS to every American has become especially apparent over the last several months as our nation has faced unprecedented challenges, and the IRS has responded admirably by quickly facilitating financial assistance to millions of deserving and needy Americans,” he said in his opening statement. “IRS employees continually demonstrate just how much they care, and how important the agency is to our country, by their heroic response to the crisis our country is facing during the pandemic. At the same time, the IRS continues to remain focused on its core mission, striving to serve taxpayers in a manner that facilitates voluntary compliance by providing meaningful guidance and proper levels of staffing and support at points of significant taxpayer interaction. Our modernization efforts will not ignore traditional methods of communication, including meaningful opportunities for local and in-person interactions whenever possible.”
The new Data Book includes details about the IRS’s compliance work. “We realize when the public thinks of compliance, they think of audits, but there is so much more to our work to ensure appropriate compliance with the tax law and serve the nation,” Rettig wrote in the Data Book. “We’ve created a new section called ‘Compliance Presence,’ so everyone can easily see the many different activities related to enforcement. Beyond traditional examinations, these activities include more than 5 million compliance steps the IRS takes every year to ensure fairness in our tax system.”
Among the compliance steps, illustrated by statistics in this section, are math error notices, matching tax return entries to information returns filed by employers, banks and other third parties, and casework by the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit.
“This has been a long-running publication of the IRS,” said an IRS official during a media briefing Monday. “It includes a lot of our major programs and initiatives by the numbers. This year there were several changes that took place in it.”
The new Data Book notes that during FY 2019, the IRS processed more than 253 million individual and business tax returns and forms, with nearly 73% of them filed electronically. Of that total, about 154 million were individual income tax returns, with about 89% of them being e-filed. The agency also collected over $3.5 trillion in federal taxes paid by individuals and businesses last fiscal year, with the individual income tax accounting for about 56% of the total.
The agency also issued nearly 121.9 million refunds to individuals and businesses in fiscal 2019, totaling more than $452 billion. The bulk of the tax refunds — more than 119.8 million totaling over $270 billion — went to individual income tax filers. Of that total, nearly 17.3 million included a refundable Child Tax Credit and nearly 24.6 million included a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
The IRS saw nearly 651 million visits to its IRS.gov web site last fiscal year. The agency also set up more than 2.8 million new payment or installment agreements in fiscal 2019, with nearly 1.1 million of them established online at IRS.gov.. The IRS also reinvigorated its non-filer compliance initiative by closing over 364,000 cases last year under the Automated Substitute for Return Program, resulting in nearly $6.6 billion in additional assessments. In addition, the IRS completed nearly 2,800 criminal investigations.