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IRS' 35-cent solution and other tax-filing numbers

Folks who were at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 24 to hear Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen speak literally were rewarded.

They got 35 cents.

IRS 35 cent gift to those attending Commissioner NPC speechThanks Washington Post money blogger Jonelle Marte for sharing via Twitter. Follow her at @Jonelle.

OK, it's not that much. Koskinen explained:

Now if this were the studio audience for the Ellen DeGeneres show or Oprah, you could have hoped, or even expected, that the envelope might hold something like a key to a new car. But this is the IRS we're talking about, so nobody should get their hopes up.

The penny-ante amount notwithstanding, I'm sure that Congressional foes of the IRS already are investigating the coins' source and preparing their House and Senate floor remarks decrying the waste.

But the quarter and dime were a demonstration of IRS efficiency. Again, I'll let Koskinen explain:

Now, let me show you what the IRS does with that money. Suppose I said, "Give me that 35 cents, and I’ll give you back $100." How many of you would take that deal? Everybody, right?

Well, that's the deal that you get with the IRS. It may sound like a magic trick but it's simply good, efficient tax administration. If you add up all the work we do for the tax system – issuing forms, helping taxpayers, sending out notices, conducting audits, and everything else – it now costs us about 35 cents to collect $100 in federal revenue. I think that's a pretty good deal for the American people.

The 35 cents was one of many numbers included in Koskinen's address. He does, after all, run the IRS and that agency is all about numbers.

And since it was an actual, physical part of Koskinen's speech, it earns this week's By the Numbers honor.

Numbers, numbers and more numbers: The Wall Street Journal has a nice round-up of some of the figures in Koskinen's remarks.

Here's my own bulleted, not numbered, numerical list:

  • 150 million = how many individual tax returns the IRS expects to receive this filing season
  • 65 million = the number of refunds issued so far (March 18 IRS stats)
  • $190 billion = the dollar amount of refunds so far (again, March 18 IRS stats), or as Koskinen described them, "real money going back into the economy or into people's savings
  • ½ inch = the height of how many $100 bills it takes for the Benjamins to total $10,000
  • 60 = how many footballs fields, stacked lengthwise, it would take in $100 bills to equal $6 billion
  • $290 million = the additional fiscal year 2016 funding for the IRS approved in December 2015 by Congress
  • 1,000 = the number of extra temporary telephone assistance employees the increased FY16 funds enabled the IRS to add this filing season
  • 70 percent = the level of service on IRS' toll-free help lines so far this filing service
  • 65 percent = the average for phone customer service expected during the entire filing season; not great, but as Koskinen noted, a vast improvement over last year
  • 47 percent = the expected phone customer service rate once those seasonal phone-answering employees are gone
  • $900 million = how much lower the current IRS budget is compared to the money Congress allotted the agency in 2010
  • 5,000 = the number of full-time key tax enforcement staff the IRS has lost since 2010 because of budget cuts
  • $5 billion = the estimated amount of annual revenue not being collected because of budget cuts affecting IRS enforcement activities
  • $3 trillion = the amount of money taxpayers provided voluntarily each year; that is, without having to be forced to pay after an audit etc.
  • $30 billion = the annual revenue loss attributable to a 1 percent drop in the taxpayer compliance rate
  • 250 million = the number of individual taxpayer accounts converted from the agency's old master file data stored on tape drives to the IRS' modernized Customer Account Data Engine, aka CADE2
  • 4.4 million = the number of tax returns the IRS accepted on its busiest day earlier this filing season
  • 450,000 = the number of returns that were accepted in one hour at the peak of that hectic IRS filing day
  • 125 = the number of returns accepted every second on that day

And finally, there's 18, as in this year's filing (or extension) deadline of April 18.

The IRS might come close to its frenetic early season filing numbers again as that due date nears. If so, I'll annotate this numbers list.

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