IRS head sees huge task ahead with new tax law

WASHINGTON -- The acting head of the IRS says the current tax-filing season has gone well, while acknowledging the tough challenge the cash-strapped agency faces of administering the new tax law affecting 2019 returns.

Acting IRS commissioner David Kautter told Congress some 79 million refunds totaling about $226 billion have been issued as of April 6, averaging $2,900, up $13 from last year. Around 80 percent of returns filed claimed a refund. The final year under the "old" tax regime, 2017, has to be accounted for by taxpayers in returns by Tuesday.

The agency, pummeled for years by criticism from congressional Republicans and funding cuts, now must administer and enforce the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades.

Kautter told the Senate Finance Committee the new law "requires extensive work by the IRS this year and next." The paperwork alone is immense: about 450 forms and instructions will have to be amended.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the panel's chairman, said the new burden falls on an agency with a history of mismanagement and taxpayer abuse laboring under funding and technology deficits.

The massive Republican tax-cut legislation was muscled through Congress late last year and now stands as President Donald Trump's marquee achievement.

It took effect Jan. 1, billed as a huge boon for the stressed middle class and a key GOP selling point in the midterm elections this year. The $1.5 trillion package provides generous tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.

The tax cuts for corporations are permanent, while those for individuals and families expire in 2026. Nonpartisan tax experts project the law will bring lower taxes for the great majority of Americans, though not all.

Already taxpayers have seen a tangible result of the new tax law. Millions of working Americans saw bigger paychecks starting early in the year. Companies and payroll service providers -- and their computer systems -- had to adjust to new withholding tables crafted by the IRS to reflect changes in tax rates for different income levels under the new law.