TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL
FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION
The Internal Revenue Service Needs to Ensure Accuracy of Publications
Reference No. 2001-40-142
Each year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sends out hundreds of publications to taxpayers to try and help them meet their tax responsibilities. Most mainstream forms and publications go through a quality assurance process each year to help ensure that the information distributed to taxpayers is both helpful and accurate. In addition to those mainstream publications, individual program offices also send out publications that pertain specifically to their individual program areas. These program offices do not always have the same comprehensive control system to ensure the accuracy of publications originating from their offices.
In January 2001, the IRS sent two publications to taxpayers with incorrect telephone numbers. The incorrect telephone number on one of the publications had been distributed to 286,000 taxpayers from a program office and was not subjected to mandatory review under current guidelines. The other publication had been sent to relatively few taxpayers and contained an old number that the IRS had given back to the telephone company. This publication had been subjected to an annual review, but the incorrect telephone number was not detected.
Unfortunately, the incorrect telephone numbers in both publications referred taxpayers to adult content chat lines. Neither error was discovered until taxpayers complained about the wrong numbers. The IRS recognized the problem and took immediate actions to ensure the publications were no longer distributed.
The overall objective of the audit was to determine whether controls are in place to ensure that publications provide taxpayers with accurate information. We wanted to determine what allowed these incorrect telephone numbers to be issued and what could be done to minimize similar problems in the future.
There is a comprehensive set of quality controls for technical documents that are sent to taxpayers by the Technical Publications Branch of Media and Publications. There are also guidelines in the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) for reviewing documents which include publications that are both contained in the IRM as exhibits and also mailed to taxpayers. However, for documents that fall outside of these mainstream forms and publications, there are little or no controls to ensure that all information that goes out to the public is accurate. Unless internal controls are properly implemented, taxpayers may receive inaccurate information that could prove embarrassing to the IRS, undermine the publicís confidence in the IRS, and place an undue burden on taxpayers needing assistance.
Controls Do Not Ensure That Individual Program Offices Validate the Accuracy of Information in Publications They Distribute
There are no written procedures in place in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Program Office regarding the clearance of publications initiated by that Program Office. The EITC Program Office sent out Publication 3721, which contained an incorrect toll free number, to 286,000 taxpayers. That number directed the caller to another 800 number that is an adult content chat line. The untitled Publication, which consisted of state agency telephone numbers, was provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and the telephone numbers were not verified by the EITC Program Office.
Controls to Ensure the Accuracy of Information in Publications Were Not Properly Implemented
The annual review of the Federal Tax Deposit (FTD) Checklist for Tellers and Taxpayers (Publication 1510) did not detect an error. Publication 1510 is both an exhibit in the IRM and also sent to taxpayers. The Submission Processing Office of the Small Business/Self-Employed Division is responsible for conducting an annual review of the Publication using IRM guidelines. The Publication was distributed to taxpayers with a telephone number that the IRS had not used in years. The telephone company reassigned the number to a private business that operates adult content chat lines and the obsolete number was not identified during the annual review.
Summary of Recommendations
To improve the quality of service provided to taxpayers, we recommend that the IRS establish a comprehensive set of internal controls to verify the accuracy of all materials that go out to the public, regardless of the originating office.
Managementís Response: IRS management agreed with our recommendations and will establish a way to verify the accuracy of all materials for the public. Managementís complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix IV.