Despite being drowned in a metaphorical flood, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) isn’t heeding calls to build a metaphorical coffers—and taxpayers are paying a real price.

That’s according to Erin M. Collins, the National Taxpayer Advocate, who said in a memo Tuesday that she was formally appealing a decision by the IRS to deny timely implementation of simple scanning technology that would have allowed agency to “read by machine” the handwritten tax declaration.

According to the most recent estimates, the IRS had a backlog of more than 17 million paper returns as of July — leaving processing centers overflowing with monstrous mountains of paper that look almost comical from a distance — and each of those returns must be reviewed by a human being. The result is that many taxpayers who are owed refunds are left waiting for months with no clear communication about when they can expect their money.

like Fast company reported in March, Collins had issued a directive to the IRS asking it to implement scanning technology that would automate the process, ideally by the start of the 2023 tax season, but if not, then no later than the start of the tax season 2024. One such technology, known as optical character recognition, or OCR, has been around for decades and is now widely used by state-level tax agencies, according to Collins.

However, the IRS said in a response last month that it was essentially revoking the directive, noting that while it is testing a number of pilot programs, it did not yet have a system in place that could simply be rolled out. “We will not implement a single option until we are confident in providing that option,” Deputy Commissioners Jeffrey J. Tribiano and Douglas W. O’Donnell wrote.

In other words, the agency recognizes that scanning paper returns is urgently needed, but taxpayers shouldn’t hold their breath that it will happen until 2023 or even 2024.

Collins says that’s just not good enough. “I fully agree that the IRS should choose an efficient and reliable distribution system, but the IRS’s response did not provide specifics about the IRS’s ongoing efforts, a timeline to implement a distribution system to process paper returns, or how much percentage of returns in 2022 predicts. scanning,” she wrote in her appeal letter, adding that taxpayers “deserve a 21st-century tax administration that uses technology to meet the needs of the taxpaying public, especially by issuing timely tax refunds.”

She went on to say that she expects a response to her appeal by September 30. In it, she wants the IRS to explain either how it plans to implement the scanning technology, whether it has come up with a viable alternative, or whether it will simply decline to take action.

It is unclear what will happen next. According to a follow-up blog post by Collins, her decision to appeal a ruling by two IRS deputy commissioners is an “unusual step.” The Taxpayer Advocate Service is usually able to make recommendations to the IRS, but has limited authority to mandate changes.

One thing seems clear, however: the agency’s paperwork problem isn’t going away, and at the current rate, it may not finish dealing with its existing workload before the process starts again next year. “While we all hope the IRS can work through the backlog this year, I often say that hope is not a business plan,” Collins wrote.

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