IRS tax refund. (Photo: 401(K) 2012)

The IRS points the finger at Congress for the delays in tax refunds next year, but the agency should take a look in the mirror. (Photo: 401(K) 2012)

Are you waiting on that yearly tax refund check from the IRS to pay off some bills, settle debts, or to just have that little extra breathing room early in the year? Well, be prepared to wait a little longer the next time around.

In late August, the Internal Revenue Service announced that tax refunds for a large portion of American taxpayers will be delayed in 2017. The agency says that a new law passed by Congress in 2015 — the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act — will require them to “hold refunds on tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until mid-February.”

Among the various other things that the PATH Act seeks to do is to force the IRS to confront its myriad fraud and identify-theft detection problems. In recent years, the agency has faced a host of scandals related to high-profile data breaches, cyber attacks, and rampant identify theft — some of which even committed by “unscrupulous individuals” within the IRS itself, according to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) in April.

In fact, the latest TIGTA report on the matter revealed that the IRS failed to notify over 1 million people who had their social-security numbers stolen in “employment-related identity theft” between 2011 to 2015. In other words, the IRS identified over 1 million cases in which someone — likely an undocumented immigrant, according to the Washington Times — tried to use a stolen SSN to get a job, but the Service couldn’t be bothered to tell anyone about it.

It is this kind of ineptness at our federal revenue-collection agency that, in part, prompted Congress to act and require the IRS to be more vigilant in its fraud-detection procedures.

Now, for some, this delay in tax refund checks next year may seem like nothing more than a slight inconvenience. What’s a few more weeks, or even a month or two, really matter? And if that’s you, then congratulations: you are far more fortunate than the large number of Americans who depend on that tax refund to pay their bills.

WREG, a Tribune broadcasting station in Memphis, Tennessee, recently interviewed folks who planned on doing just that with their refund. They spoke to Kenneth Herron, a local tax preparer, who confirmed that those who typically file early will be hit especially hard by these delays.

“Many have plans for that money,” he said. “So, normally, they would come in as soon as the season opens to file their taxes and, in past years, getting their refund within 21 days. Now that’s not going to happen.”

The headache this is going to cause for those early filers begs the question: couldn’t this all have been avoided if the Internal Revenue Service did its job from the start? Is the IRS really making the best use of its current resources?

It’s hard to say, and there’s really only one way to find out: a true, independent audit of the people who audit us. A much closer look at an agency that has for too long gone without any real oversight, accountability, or transparency is in order.

The Tax Revolution Institute is seeking to do just that, and we could use your help.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.