TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION

 

 

Improvements to the E‑Help Desk Are Needed to Support Expanding Electronic Products and Services

 

 

 

January 30, 2007

 

Reference Number:  2007-40-026

 

 

This report has cleared the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration disclosure review process and information determined to be restricted from public release has been redacted from this document.

 

Phone Number   |  202-927-7037

Email Address   |  Bonnie.Heald@tigta.treas.gov

Web Site           |  http://www.tigta.gov

 

January 30, 2007

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

FROM:                            Michael R. Phillips

                                         Deputy Inspector General for Audit

 

SUBJECT:                    Final Audit Report – Improvements to the E-Help Desk Are Needed to Support Expanding Electronic Products and Services (Audit # 200640032)

 

This report presents the results of our review to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) E-Help Desk Program is providing quality customer service.

Impact on the Taxpayer

The E-Help Desk Program provides assistance to users of IRS electronic products and services (e-services).  Improvements to the E-Help Desk Program are needed to support the IRS’ expanding e-services.  Ensuring the Program provides quality customer service is essential because the number of taxpayers who are electronically filing their tax returns is increasing, and the IRS is continuing to offer more e-services.

Synopsis

Improvements are needed to ensure the E-Help Desk Program provides effective customer service.

The IRS recognizes the need to provide customers of its e-services with the ability to obtain the assistance they may need to successfully use these products.  Since the inception of the E‑Help Desk in 2002, the IRS has continued to identify ways to improve Program efficiency and customer service.  However, continued expansion in the availability and use of e-services requires that improvements are made to ensure the Program can continue to provide effective customer service.  We have the following concerns about the Program:

·         Customer satisfaction is not being measured.

·         Quality measures and procedures have not been fully established and developed.  The Program has no measure to evaluate the accuracy of the responses the E-Help Desk assistors are providing to their customers.

·         Call monitoring and electronic case (e-case[1]) reviews are currently not being used to evaluate the quality of the Program.  Review of a random sample of 97 e‑cases found 4 e‑cases (4 percent) in which the customers received incorrect answers (i.e., the solutions did not address the customer questions).  For 7 e-cases (7 percent), the assistors did not adequately document the e-cases, and we were unable to determine if customers received the correct answers.

·         Processes and procedures have not been developed to ensure predefined solutions[2] are accurate and current or to ensure management information is accurate and reliable.  Information contained in the E-Help Support System[3] is inaccurate and incomplete.  The indicator used to show that an e‑case was closed on the first contact was sometimes inaccurate.  Assistors are not creating or updating e‑cases for all calls.  In addition, Business Strategy and Business Architect office management stated they do not review e-cases closed with general solutions to determine if new predefined solutions should be created to address the specific issues raised by customers.

·         Processes have not been developed to ensure employees complete required training.  Review of a random sample of 19 assistors determined that none had completed all required training for Fiscal Year 2006.

To adequately support the growth of electronic filing and e-services, the IRS must ensure its E-Help Desk Program is operating efficiently and effectively and is meeting the needs of its customers and the IRS.

Recommendations

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should develop (1) a process to ensure customer satisfaction is timely measured; (2) quality measures as well as a process to assess progress towards achieving the measures; (3) processes and procedures to ensure predefined solutions are accurately developed, timely monitored, and appropriately approved; (4) processes and procedures to ensure management information is complete and accurate; and (5) a process to ensure assistors complete required training; and (6) should realign E-Help Desk Program assistors under the Business Strategy and Business Architect office.

Response

IRS management agreed with all of our recommendations.  Management: 

1)      Is considering administering a customer satisfaction survey focused specifically on the E-Help Desk.

2)      Is working to establish quality measures and procedures with plans to add the E-Help Desk Program to the Embedded Quality process and implement Contact Recording.

3)      Has revised the solutions development process to require documentation of the source or origin of solutions, approval before a solution can be placed into production, and an annual review of solutions.

4)      Will require weekly e-case reviews and develop programming to automatically uncheck the Resolved on First Contact field when an e-case is reopened. 

5)      Has developed a process to ensure assistors have completed required training. 

6)      Will realign E-Help Desk assistors with the office that establishes policies and procedures. 

Management’s complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix VII.

Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or Michael McKenney, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Wage and Investment Income Programs), at (202) 622-5916.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Background

Results of Review

Improvements to the E-Help Desk Are Needed to Support Expanding Electronic Products and Services

Recommendations 1 through 4:

Recommendations 5 and 6:

Appendices

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV – Outcome Measures

Appendix V – Customers of the E-Help Desk

Appendix VI – Electronic Products Supported by the E-Help Desk

Appendix VII – Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

 

Abbreviations

 

BSBA

Business Strategy and Business Architect

e-case

Electronic case

e-file

Electronically file(d)

e-filing

Electronic filing

e-services

Electronic products and services

EFTPS

Electronic Federal Tax Payment System

EHSS

E-Help Support System

IRS

Internal Revenue Service

U.S.

United States

 

 

Background

 

E-services is a suite of web-based products that allows tax professionals and payers to conduct business with the IRS electronically.  These services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from almost any computer with an Internet connection.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provides multiple electronic products and services (e‑services) to tax professionals and payers to allow them to conduct business with the IRS electronically.[4]  In Fiscal Year 2006, this allowed over 74 million individual tax returns and over 8 million business tax returns to be electronically filed (e‑file).  In addition, over 48 million payments were made using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).[5]  The EFTPS allows taxpayers and tax professionals to use the telephone, personal computer software, or the Internet to initiate tax payments. 

In 2002, the IRS established the E-Help Desk Program to assist customers with electronic filing (e-filing) and e‑services.  There are four E-Help Desk sites located at the following IRS Submission Processing Sites:  Andover, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; AustinTexas; and Ogden, Utah.  E-Help Desk assistors generally answer the telephone calls from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Callers can leave a message after business hours.  In addition, customers can fax inquires and some customers have the ability to email inquiries.  Figure 1 provides a 3-year trend for incoming calls by Submission Processing Site.[6]

Figure 1:  Incoming Calls by E-Help Desk Site

E-Help Desk Site

Fiscal Year 2004

Fiscal Year 2005

Fiscal Year 2006

Andover, Massachusetts

200,305

169,329

160,166

Cincinnati, Ohio

29,241

29,861

33,346

Austin, Texas

234,307

183,945

167,032

Ogden, Utah

35,845

56,982

64,466

Source:  IRS Toll-Free Telephone Reports for Fiscal Years 2004, 2005, and 2006.[7]

Customers contacting the E-Help Desk may be experiencing difficulty registering for e-services, transmitting an e-file tax return, or applying to be an Electronic Return Originator.  Customers of the Program include agents enrolled with the IRS to file tax returns and make payments, certified public accountants, and tax software developers with nonaccount-related questions and issues concerning electronic products.  Appendix V provides a list of E-Help Desk customers.  Electronic products supported by the E‑Help Desk include e-file and e-services, such as the EFTPS and the Central Contractor Registration.[8]    Appendix VI provides a breakdown of the specific electronic products supported within each of the four broad product categories.

Enrolled agents, certified public accountants, and tax software developers are customers who use the E-Help Desk.

To obtain assistance, customers within the United States or its Territories can call toll-free 1‑866‑255‑0654 and international callers can call 1‑512‑416-7750.  Customers are presented with a series of self-selection menus that direct them to one of the E-Help Desk sites for assistance.  Calls are answered in the order in which they are received.  After a caller reaches an assistor, certain verifications are made to ensure the individual seeking information is authorized to receive the information.  The assistor then uses the E-Help Support System (EHSS) to resolve the customer’s problem(s).  It contains a “solutions” database that houses a set of predefined solutions for common problems.  If one of the predefined solutions does not address the problem, the assistor can raise the issue to the E‑Help Solutions Board,[9] which reviews the problem and determines whether a new solution should be developed.

E-Help Desk assistors enter information about the caller, the nature of the call, and the resolution into an electronic case (e-case).  Calls that cannot be answered on the first contact are left open and tracked in the computer system.  The e-case serves as the official record of customer contact and includes information regarding customer type, product type, problem type, and e-case resolution (e.g., an identification number of the solution used to resolve the e‑case).  The data are used to provide formal tracking and reporting of all issues and call types in a common database.  Management reviews system reports to determine types of problems and ways to improve service.  The EHSS is used to standardize processes and procedures.

Oversight of the Program is the responsibility of the IRS Wage and Investment Division Customer Account Services function.  Within the Customer Account Services function, the Director, Business Strategy and Business Architect (BSBA), is responsible for providing strategic planning, technical problem solving, and daily management oversight to the E-Help Desk call sites.  The Customer Account Services Submission Processing function is responsible for the E‑Help Desk assistors.  The Wage and Investment Division Electronic Tax Administration office is responsible for all electronic mechanisms used by taxpayers, preparers, and practitioners to file tax returns; make payments; exchange correspondence; and retrieve forms, publications, and other information.

This review was performed at the BSBA office in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the E-Help Desk sites in Andover, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; Austin, Texas; and Ogden, Utah, during the period May through October 2006.  The audit was conducted in accordance with Government Auditing Standards.  Detailed information on our audit objective, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I.  Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.

 

 

Results of Review

 

Improvements to the E-Help Desk Are Needed to Support Expanding Electronic Products and Services

The IRS recognizes the need to provide customers of its e-services with the ability to obtain the assistance they may need to successfully use these products.  Since the inception of the E‑Help Desk in 2002, the IRS has continued to identify ways to improve Program efficiency and customer service.  For example, the IRS:

·         Consolidated the six e-file Help Desk sites, which assisted callers with different products and activities and used different telephone numbers, into a single Program.  The Program currently consists of four call sites and one centralized toll-free telephone number.  Since the consolidation, emphasis has been placed on improving the telephone system, implementing tools to manage contacts, and providing multichannel capabilities (telephone, email, and fax).

·         Implemented the EHSS, which is a tool used for customer interaction and tracking.  The EHSS documents the history of customers’ contacts with the E-Help Desk.  Prior to the implementation of this System, the Program did not have a way to record, track, and identify problems and trends for e-file or e-service products. 

·         Obtained Next Available Technology, which seeks to improve the overall level of service by sending calls to the next available assistor, enterprise-wide, that has the necessary skills to answer the customer’s question.  The necessary technology has been installed and is ready for use.  However, the Next Available Technology cannot be implemented until the BSBA office negotiates a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Treasury Employees Union. 

Taxpayers are continuing to elect to e-file, and the IRS is continuing to offer more e-services.  Since 2002, the IRS has added e-services such as online registration for e-services and transcript delivery service, which allows eligible tax professionals to request and receive account transcripts, wage and income documents, and tax return transcripts.  The IRS has also added electronic account resolution, which allows tax professionals to electronically inquire about individual or business account problems, refunds, installment agreements, and missing payments or notices.  In Fiscal Year 2007, the IRS plans to offer additional electronic products, including e-services for Reporting Agents[10] and income verification express services, which provide 2-business day processing and delivery of return transcripts.  Customers having difficulty using these new products will be supported by the E-Help Desk Program.

With this continued expansion in the availability and use of e-services, improvements are needed to ensure the Program can continue to provide effective customer service.  Figure 2 provides Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006 volumes associated with the categories of electronic products supported by the E-Help Desk. 

Figure 2:  Volumes of Electronic Products Supported by the E-Help Desk
(in millions)

Product Category

Fiscal Year 2005 Volumes

Fiscal Year 2006[11] Volumes

E-file

68

72

EFTPS

78

82

E-Services

55

90

Central Contractor Registration

Not applicable

.003

Totals

201

244[12]

Sources:  Websites IRS.gov, eta.hq.irs.gov, and ccr.gov and presentation provided by the IRS.

To adequately support the growth of e-filing and e-services, the IRS must ensure its Program is operating efficiently and effectively and is meeting the needs of its customers and the IRS.  This requires developing a measurement system to assess the quality and effectiveness of the Program and ensuring the management information system produces accurate and complete data with which to monitor the Program.  In addition, the present organizational alignment of the Program creates a situation in which the BSBA office, which establishes the policies and procedures, does not have control over the personnel responsible for carrying out these policies and procedures.

During the course of the audit, we brought our concerns to the attention of BSBA office management.  Management indicated that they have already begun to take actions to address our concerns.

A quality measurement system is needed to monitor the quality and effectiveness of the E‑Help Desk Program

The E-Help Desk Program does not currently measure Customer Satisfaction or the Accuracy of Responses to Customers.

Modern management practices and various statutory and regulatory provisions require the IRS to set performance goals for organizational units and to measure the progress towards achieving those goals.  To fulfill these requirements, the IRS has established a balanced performance measurement system designed to align with the IRS’ mission and goals at all levels of the organization.  The balanced measures encompass three components:  Customer Satisfaction, Employee Satisfaction, and Business Results.  The Business Results Measures consist of numerical scores determined under the Quality Measures and the Quantity Measures.  The Program has not fully established quality measures or goals or developed processes and procedures to measure the progress towards achieving those goals. 

Customer satisfaction is not being measured  

Although Program guidelines detail specific actions to be taken to measure customer satisfaction, either these actions were not taken or there is no documentation to support the actions that were taken.  Guidelines indicate that customer satisfaction will be measured from feedback obtained from:

o       The Nationwide Tax Forums.  The last time formal feedback was obtained was via the 2003 Nationwide Tax Forum.  BSBA office management stated they have not held additional focus groups since 2003 because they wanted to address the recommendations from the 2003 Nationwide Tax Forum before obtaining new feedback.  BSBA office management stated they are planning to obtain feedback during the 2007 Nationwide Tax Forum. 

o       The Software Developers Conference.  BSBA office management stated they have attended these conferences annually.  However, the BSBA office did not maintain documentation to support the feedback it received at these conferences. 

o       The Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement.  BSBA office management stated they have attended these conferences annually, except for the 2006 conference.  However, the BSBA office did not maintain documentation to support the feedback it received at these conferences. 

The BSBA office submitted a narrative justification to Wage and Investment Division management for approval to establish an E-Help Customer Satisfaction Project.  The request was submitted on June 19, 2006.  The purpose of this Project is to survey E-Help Desk customers to determine their satisfaction with E-Help Desk services.

Quality measures and procedures have not been fully established and developed

The Program has three quality measures and goals:  Resolved on First Contact (95 percent), Level of Service (85 percent), and Percentage of E-Cases Opened Versus Incoming Calls (85 percent).  However, the Program has no measure to evaluate the accuracy of the responses the E‑Help Desk assistors are providing to their customers. 

Although E-Help Desk guidelines implemented in March 2006 require managers to monitor a minimum of two calls, review a minimum of two e-cases for each assistor each month, and document the results, there are no procedures in place to ensure these reviews are being completed.  Calls are currently not being monitored because the BSBA office is in negotiations with the National Treasury Employees Union on aspects of the monitoring process.  Review of a random sample of 20 of 168 employees (5 employees from each E-Help Desk site) determined that e-case reviews either were not performed or the results of the e-case reviews were not maintained for the months of May and June 2006.

We estimate that 16,101 customers received incorrect answers and another 28,178 e-cases do not have adequate documentation to assess the accuracy of the responses provided.

Also, neither the call monitoring nor the case reviews are currently being used to evaluate the quality of the Program.  Our review of a random sample of 97 e‑cases found that in 4 e-cases (4 percent) the customers received incorrect answers (i.e., the solutions did not address the customer questions).  For 7 e-cases (7 percent), the assistors did not adequately document the e-cases, and we were unable to determine if the customers received the correct answers.  Projecting our results over the universe of 390,461 e‑cases closed with solutions, there is a potential that 16,101 customers received incorrect answers and that another 28,178 e-cases have inadequate documentation to assess the accuracy of the responses provided to the customers.

Without an accuracy measure and procedures and processes in place to monitor the quality of the Program, the effectiveness of the Program cannot be determined.  The BSBA office plans to implement Contact Recording, which is an automated quality monitoring system that captures voice elements of customers’ contacts and employees’ corresponding computer desktop activities.  Contact Recording is used in the IRS Toll-Free Telephone Program to both monitor employee performance and measure program quality.  However, the benefit of Contact Recording will not be fully realized without implementation of an operational quality review system.

Processes and procedures have not been developed to ensure predefined solutions are accurate

To ensure the consistency of responses provided to customers, the E-Help Desk uses a set of predefined solutions for common problems.  The predefined solutions allow assistors to resolve customer problems quickly and efficiently.  Additionally, the BSBA office is exploring the option of posting these solutions on the IRS public website, IRS.gov, as a self-assistance option for customers.

However, there are no requirements to document the steps taken to create the predefined solutions and ensure they are accurate.  Although our review of 15 solutions identified only 1 partially inaccurate solution, as the Program grows and new solutions are added, it is essential that all steps are taken to ensure the solutions are accurate, including managerial reviews and approvals.

Also, processes and procedures have not been developed to ensure existing solutions are periodically reviewed to ensure they are current and accurate.  Solutions can become obsolete or inaccurate as e‑services change.  For example, one solution we reviewed related to the IRS TeleFile Program,[13] which was discontinued as of August 2005.  However, the solution was not declared to be expired (no longer valid) until January 2006.  A solution review team was created in March 2006, and as a result of its review, 81 (15 percent) of 542 of the predefined solutions were expired or superseded (modifications needed to be made to the solutions).[14]  Procedures are needed to ensure periodic reviews are completed, including documenting the specific reasons the solutions were expired or superseded.  This will help ensure the solutions remain accurate.

Processes and procedures need to be developed to ensure management information is accurate and reliable 

Information contained in the EHSS is inaccurate and incomplete.  An analysis of EHSS data determined the information relating to e‑cases closed on the first contact was inaccurate.  In addition, there are indications that the EHSS is incomplete because assistors are not creating or updating e-cases when calls are handled.  Furthermore, BSBA office management stated they do not review e-cases with general solutions to determine if new predefined solutions should be created to address the specific issues raised by customers. 

The Resolved on First Contact indicator is not reliable 

IRS customers expect accurate assistance from the IRS, preferably on their first contact.  Resolving a customer’s issue on the first contact saves both the customer and the IRS the need to expend time and resources on subsequent contacts to resolve the same issue.  Program guidelines require assistors to input a Resolved on First Contact indicator on the e-case in the EHSS.  If a customer calls back with the same issue, the assistor is to remove the indicator.  The indicator is not reliable because assistors are not always able to identify previously created e-cases for a customer calling back with the same issue and the assistors are not correctly inputting the indicator.

EHSS guidelines do not require assistors to enter identifying customer information into e-cases; therefore, the e-cases do not always contain sufficient information to identify customers.  As a result, assistors are not always able to identify and retrieve the previous e-case and remove the Resolved on First Contact indicator, even though the customer has called back with the same issue.  An analysis of 543,515 e-cases[15] identified that 378,381 (70 percent) did not contain identifying customer information.

In addition, an analysis of the 543,515 e-cases showed 538,298 (99 percent) of the contacts contained a Resolved on First Contact indicator.  However, 18,945 (4 percent) of these e-cases were not closed on the date the call was received, which could indicate these cases were not resolved on first contact.  BSBA office management indicated they have made a system change that will allow an assistor who did not create the e-case to uncheck the Resolved on First Contact indicator if the e-case is reopened.

E-case data are incomplete

Assistors are not creating e-cases for all calls or are using general solutions to close e-cases.  Program guidelines require each customer contact to be documented as a new or existing e-case.  However, a review of key Program statistics identified that e-cases are not being created or updated for every call.  For example, for Fiscal Year 2006, the E-Help Desk sites answered 358,786 calls.  However, e-cases created totaled only 261,909, with 96,877 calls (27 percent) being answered without an e-case being created.  We recognize that some of these calls may be related to a previous contact.  However, because customer information is not always maintained, it is impossible to determine the number of these 96,877 calls that would not result in an e-case being created.

The BSBA office continually stresses the need to create e‑cases.  However, Figure 3 shows that assistors created e-cases for only about 72 percent of answered calls for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006.

Figure 3:  Percentage of E-Cases Opened Versus Calls Answered

E-Help Desk Site

Fiscal Year
2005

Fiscal Year
2006

Andover, Massachusetts

51%

68%

Austin, Texas

77%

76%

Cincinnati, Ohio

78%

66%

Ogden, Utah

83%

82%

Program Average

72%

73%

Source:  IRS Toll-Free Telephone Reports for Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006.[16]

EHSS downtime also affects the creation of e-cases.  System downtime occurs when assistors are unable to access the EHSS to add or update e-cases.  Procedures require assistors to handwrite information relating to the calls during the period the EHSS is down.  If it is down for fewer than 4 hours, the assistors are instructed to go back and enter the information into the EHSS.  However, assistors advised us that there were times when the System was down for fewer than 4 hours, but they did not update the EHSS. 

BSBA office management believes EHSS downtime is minimal.  However, an analysis of System downtime shows the EHSS was down 34.4 hours during the period August 21 through September 15, 2006.  Figure 4 presents EHSS downtime results. 

Figure 4:  EHSS Downtime

E-Help Desk Site

Days When System Downtime Was Experienced

Total Hours System Was Down

Andover, Massachusetts

1

2.58

Austin, Texas

4

8.15

Cincinnati, Ohio

5

5.02

Ogden, Utah

3

18.65

Totals

13

34.40

Source:  Information obtained from the four E-Help Desk sites for the period August 21 through September 15, 2006.

General solutions are solutions used when a predefined solution does not address the customer’s inquiry.  Of the 533,417[17] e-cases, 72,205 (14 percent) e-cases used general solutions.  BSBA office management stated they do not review the e-cases for which general solutions were used to determine if new predefined solutions should have been created to address the specific issues raised by the customers.  Figure 5 provides a breakdown by business unit of the number of times general solutions were used.

Figure 5:  General Solutions Used, by Business Unit

Business Unit

Total Solutions Used

Total General Solutions Used

Percentage of General Solutions Used

Business

45,419

5,054

11%

Electronic Services

225,968

21,701

10%

Employment

32,069

4,523

14%

Individual

229,961

40,927

18%

Totals:

533,417

72,205

14%

Source:  E-Help Desk Solutions Database from May 2004 to July 2006.

Inaccurate and incomplete management information contained in the EHSS affects the ability of the BSBA office to accurately report business results.  If the above cited issues are not addressed, the IRS is unlikely to able to accurately measure progress towards meeting Program goals.

Processes have not been developed to ensure employees complete required training

Review of a random sample of 19 assistors determined that none had completed all the Fiscal Year 2006 required training.  In addition, the BSBA office did not maintain documentation to support assistors’ training.  Although the BSBA office obtained training plans, it did not have a process to ensure the training was completed.

Guidelines state that training is critical to the accomplishment of the goals and objectives of the Program.  The Program curriculum is designed to provide assistors with the skills needed to perform their jobs.  Training includes refresher courses in writing and the use of various software programs (email, spreadsheet, etc.).  However, the additional required courses are designed to provide specific training on those technical areas in which assistors will be providing support to customers.  Figure 6 identifies some of the required technical training, the number of assistors that were required to take the training, and the number of assistors that completed the training. 

Figure 6:  Required Technical Training for 19 Assistors Sampled

Training Course
Description

Assistors Required to Complete Course

Assistors Who Completed the Course

Percentage of Assistors Who Completed the Required Course

IRS e-file for Submission Processing

10

4

40%

Business Master File,[18] Form 1065,
Form 1120, and Form 1041
[19]

5

0

0%

Business Master File,
Form 940/Form 941
[20]

4

2

50%

E-Help Refresher Training

19

7

37%

Using the E-Help Support System

19

6

32%

Source:  Our analysis of information provided by the IRS relating to E-Help Desk assistor training.

Ensuring assistors complete required training will be of greater importance as the IRS moves forward with implementation of the Next Available Technology.  This will require all assistors to have training on all e-services supported by the Program.  Currently, assistors specialize in specific electronic products.

With the current organizational alignment, the BSBA office creates policies and procedures but does not have control over the assistors responsible for carrying out these policies and procedures.

The BSBA office noted that the inability to ensure required training is completed is an example of a problem with the organizational alignment of the Program.  The BSBA office establishes the policies and procedures for the Program; however, it does not have control over the personnel responsible for carrying out these policies and procedures.  The BSBA office develops the policies and procedures relating to the necessary training E-Help Desk assistors are required to complete, but the assistors are assigned to the Submission Processing function.

The mission of the Program is to provide superior help desk support for IRS e‑government programs by using multichannel communication and case management tools.  Realigning the assistors under the control of the BSBA office would ensure the organization that establishes the policies and procedures for the Program is also the organization responsible for the assistors who carry out these policies and procedures. 

To ensure the Program is providing superior customer service, it is essential that assistors complete required training and quality performance measures are established.  Processes to measure progress towards meeting those performance measures also need to be developed.  These improvements are needed to ensure results from measures are accurately communicated to customers, stakeholders, and other interested parties.

Recommendations

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

Recommendation 1:  Develop a process to ensure customer satisfaction is timely measured.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management is considering administering a Fiscal Year 2007 E-Help Desk customer satisfaction survey and a focus group for the 2007 IRS Nationwide Tax Forums. 

Recommendation 2:  Develop quality measures as well as a process to assess progress towards achieving the measures.  This should include a measure of the accuracy of responses provided to customers. 

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management is working to establish quality measures and procedures with plans to add the E-Help Desk Program to the Embedded Quality process.  In addition, Contact Recording will be implemented in the E-Help Desk sites.

Recommendation 3:  Develop processes and procedures to ensure predefined solutions are accurately developed, timely monitored, and appropriately approved.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management has reviewed and revised the solutions development process.  The new process requires documentation of the source or origin of solutions, approval before a solution can be placed into production, and an annual review of solutions. 

Recommendation 4:  Develop processes and procedures to ensure management information is complete and accurate.  This should include (a) ensuring accuracy of Resolved on First Contact indicator, (b) ensuring customer information is included in the e-case to enable an assistor to identify previous customer contacts, (c) ensuring e-cases are created or updated for all incoming calls, (d) monitoring and assessing the effect that EHSS downtime may have on the creation of e‑cases, and (e) reviewing the use of general solutions to determine if a new solution should have been proposed to address the specific issue raised by the customer.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management will require weekly e-case reviews, with reports of findings to be provided to the Program Office and site managers for feedback and coaching purposes.  Programming will be developed to automatically uncheck the Resolved on First Contact field when an e-case is reopened.  Implementation of the Computer Telephony Integration will help ensure e-cases are created or updated for all incoming calls.  In addition, the Program Office will monitor system downtime, and the use of general solutions has been removed.

Recommendation 5:  Develop a process to ensure assistors complete required training. 

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management has developed a process to ensure assistors have completed required training.  The Program Office will monitor training plans to completion and will review random samples of employees to ensure training has been conducted.

Recommendation 6:  Realign the E-Help Desk Program assistors under the BSBA office. 

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with the recommendation.  Management will realign E-Help Desk assistors with the office that establishes policies and procedures. 

 

Appendix I

 

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

 

Our overall objective was to determine whether the IRS E-Help Desk Program is providing quality customer service.  To accomplish this objective, we: 

I.                   Determined whether the IRS has established effective measures and goals for the E-Help Desk Program by obtaining reports used to track Program measures and goals, interviewing IRS management, and assessing management’s ability to monitor Program performance. 

II.                Determined whether the IRS has a quality assurance plan for the Program by interviewing Program management and surveying IRS management at the four E-Help Desk call sites.

III.             Determined whether the assistors for the Program are properly trained.

A.    Reviewed the Internal Revenue Manual to identify training classes that are required for E-Help Desk assistors.

B.     Contacted IRS management at each of the four E-Help Desks call sites to determine whether they have any locally required training classes.

C.     Randomly selected 20 of 90 assistors (5 assistors from each of the 4 E‑Help Desk call sites).  We determined whether they had received the required training.  Because we found that 19 assistors had not received all of the required training (1 assistor was not working during the time period of our review), this would be a 100 percent error rate.  With a 100 percent error rate, 90 percent confidence level, and +5 percent precision rate, a sample size of zero is produced.  We did not perform further testing in this area.

D.    When we determined the E-Help Desk assistors were not properly trained, attempted to determine the effect on the E-Help Desk customers and the clients they serve.

IV.             Determined the accuracy of the solutions and the accuracy and reliability of the management information system used in the Program.

A.    Analyzed the EHSS.  The EHSS extract covered the period July 9, 2004, through June 1, 2006.  We validated the file by verifying five e-cases on the file to the actual e-cases on the system.  However, although we were able to validate the data, we determined the EHSS data are incomplete (e-cases were not always created) and the field relating to Resolved on First Contact was inaccurate.  Many anomalies exist in the data, but these were the best data available from the IRS.  To obtain statistics for e‑cases that were resolved on first contact, we selected the e-cases that were in both of the IRS-provided files:  auditmainrec and casemainrec.  These files were an extract of the EHSS.  This produced 543,515 unique e-cases; 390,393 of these e-cases had a solution.

B.     Determined whether the IRS validates the information on the EHSS.

C.     Analyzed the solutions database from the EHSS.  The solutions database contained 542 solutions and covered the time period May 2004 to July 2006. 

D.    Determined whether solutions included in the EHSS are accurate through a stop or go sampling plan.  Stop or go sampling involves sampling a universe in increments and examining each incremental sample before deciding when to stop.  To select the sample, we put the solutions in order by solution identification number and, using a random number generator, selected our sample.  We reviewed the first 15 solutions selected from the 542 solutions.  Because we found only 1 of the first 15 solutions to be incorrect, we decided not to review an additional 32 solutions to project an error rate.  We did not pursue this issue further.

E.     Determined whether information captured in the EHSS accurately reflects the results of the Program by selecting a random sample of 97 questions and associated solutions.  We determined whether the solutions matched the questions.  This would allow us to achieve a precision rate of +5 percent given an estimated error rate of 10 percent and a confidence level of 90 percent.  To select the sample, we queried the 543,850 unique e-cases (from the IRS-provided extract of the EHSS:  auditmainrec file) to obtain the unique e-cases that had an associated solution.  We put the resulting 390,461 e-cases in order by e-case number.  We then used a random number generator to select our sample.

F.      When we determined the E-Help Desk management information system was not accurate and reliable, attempted to determine the effect on the E‑Help Desk customers, on the taxpayer clients they serve, and on IRS management’s ability to monitor the measures and goals of the Program.

V.                Determined whether the IRS has an effective process to ensure information from the Program is used to improve IRS processes by interviewing management and product owners and determining what information from the Program is provided to the IRS product owners.

 

Appendix II

 

Major Contributors to This Report

 

Michael McKenney, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Wage and Investment Income Programs)

Augusta R. Cook, Director

Russell P. Martin, Audit Manager

Pamela DeSimone, Lead Auditor

Roberta Fuller, Auditor

Kathy Henderson, Auditor

Mary Keyes, Auditor

Geraldine Vaughn, Auditor

James Allen, Information Technology Specialist

 

Appendix III

 

Report Distribution List

 

Commissioner  C

Office of the Commissioner – Attn:  Chief of Staff  C

Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement  SE

Deputy Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W 

Director, Customer Account Services, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAS

Director, Strategy and Finance, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

Chief, Performance Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PI

Senior Operations Advisor, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

Chief Counsel  CC

National Taxpayer Advocate  TA

Director, Office of Legislative Affairs  CL:LA

Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis  RAS:O

Office of Internal Control  OS:CFO:CPIC:IC

Audit Liaison:  Senior Operations Advisor, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S

 

Appendix IV

 

Outcome Measures

 

This appendix presents detailed information on the measurable effect that our recommended corrective actions will have on tax administration.  These benefits will be incorporated into our Semiannual Report to Congress.

Type and Value of Outcome Measure:

·         Reliability of Information – Potential; 28,178 e-cases with inadequate documentation to assess the accuracy of the responses provided to the customers (see page 4).

Methodology Used to Measure the Reported Benefit:

We reviewed a statistical sample of 97 e‑cases and found that in 7 (7 percent) the assistors did not adequately document the e-cases.  For these seven e-cases, we were unable to determine if the customers received the correct answers.  Projecting our results over the universe of 390,461 e‑cases closed with solutions, there is a potential that 28,178 e-cases have inadequate documentation to assess the accuracy of the responses provided to the customers. 

The sample size allowed us to achieve a 90 percent confidence level with an estimated 10 percent error rate and a precision rate of +5 percent.  To select the sample, we queried the 543,850[21] unique e-cases (from the IRS-provided file) to obtain the unique e-cases that had an associated solution.  We put the resulting 390,461 e-cases in order by e‑case number.  We then used a random number generator to select our sample.

Type and Value of Outcome Measure:

·         Taxpayer Burden – Potential; 16,101 customers received incorrect answers (see page 4).

Methodology Used to Measure the Reported Benefit:

We reviewed a statistical sample of 97 e‑cases and found that in 4 (4 percent) the customers received incorrect answers (i.e., the solutions did not address the customers’ questions).  Projecting our results over the universe of 390,461 e-cases closed with solutions, there is a potential that 16,101 customers received incorrect answers. 

The sample size allowed us to achieve a 90 percent confidence level with an estimated 10 percent error rate and a precision rate of +5 percent.  To select the sample, we queried the 543,850 unique e-cases (from the IRS-provided file) to obtain the unique e-cases that had an associated solution.  We put the resulting 390,461 e-cases in order by e‑case number.  We then used a random number generator to select our sample.

 

Appendix V

 

Customers of the E-Help Desk

 

Electronic Return Originators

Electronic Return Originators originate the electronic submission of income tax returns to the IRS.  An Electronic Return Originator may originate the electronic submission of income tax returns that are either prepared by the Electronic Return Originator firm or collected from a taxpayer. 

Enrolled Agents

Enrolled agents have earned the privilege of representing taxpayers before the IRS.  Enrolled agents, like attorneys and certified public accountants, are unrestricted as to which taxpayers they can represent, what types of tax matters they can handle, and which IRS offices they can practice before.

Financial Institutions

Financial institutions act as agents that provide financial services for their clients.  Financial institutions are users of the E-Help Desk because they use the Taxpayer Identification Number[22] Matching Program to assist them with perfecting their payee data for purposes of filing annual Information Returns, such as Miscellaneous Income (Form 1099-MISC) or Dividends and Distributions (Form 1099-DIV).  Because the majority of financial institutions report payments to customers on Form 1099, the Taxpayer Identification Number Matching Program has been instrumental in helping the financial institutions correct their payee information prior to filing Information Returns.

Federal Government Agencies

Federal Government agencies contract to do business with other Federal Government agencies.  The Central Contractor Registration is the primary registrant database for the  Federal Government.  It collects, validates, stores, and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions.  Both current and potential Federal Government registrants are required to register in the Central Contractor Registration to be awarded contracts by the Federal Government.  The Central Contractor Registration validates the registrant information and electronically shares the secure and encrypted data with the Federal Government agencies’ finance offices to facilitate paperless payments through electronic funds transfer.

Federal Government Contractors

Federal Government contractors do business with the Federal Government.  The Central Contractor Registration is the primary registrant database for the Federal Government.  It collects, validates, stores, and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions.  Both current and potential Federal Government registrants are required to register in the Central Contractor Registration to be awarded contracts by the Federal Government.  Registrants must update or renew their registration at least once per year to maintain an active status.  In addition, entities (nonprofits, educational organizations, State and regional agencies, etc.) that apply for assistance awards from the Federal Government through Grants.gov must now register with the Central Contractor Registration.  The Central Contractor Registration validates the registrant information and electronically shares the secure and encrypted data with the Federal Government agencies’ finance offices to facilitate paperless payments through electronic funds transfer.

Intermediate Service Providers

Intermediate Service Providers receive tax return information from Electronic Return Originators, or from taxpayers that e-file from home using their personal computers, either online or by using commercial tax preparation software.  Intermediate Service Providers process the tax return information and either forward the information to a Transmitter or send the information back to the Electronic Return Originators or taxpayers.

IRS Employees

IRS employees can e-file their tax returns in IRS offices.

Large Corporations

Large corporations are those that, for Tax Year 2005 tax returns (due in 2006) with total assets of $50 million or more, are required to e-file their U.S. Corporation Income Tax Returns (Form 1120) or U.S. Income Tax Returns for an S Corporation (Form 1120S).  In addition, tax-exempt organizations with total assets of $100 million or more were required to e-file their Tax Year 2005 Returns of Organization Exempt From Income Tax (Form 990).

Beginning in 2007, the e-filing requirement will be expanded to include the Tax Year 2006 tax returns of corporations and tax-exempt organizations with $10 million or more in total assets.  In addition, private foundations and charitable trusts will be required to e-file their Returns of Private Foundation (Form 990-PF) regardless of their asset size.

The e-filing requirements apply only to entities that file at least 250 returns, including income tax, excise tax, information, and employment tax returns, during a calendar year.

Reporting Agencies

Reporting agencies include accounting services, franchisers, banks, or other persons that  are authorized to e-file Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Returns (Form 941) and Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Returns (Form 940) for a taxpayer.

Software Developers

Software developers write the programs to IRS specifications that make IRS e-file and Federal/State e-file possible.  The IRS and participating States require that all software pass a series of tests each year.  Once approved, this software may be sold and used by Electronic Return Originators, Reporting Agents,[23] Intermediate Service Providers, and Transmitters.

State Tax Administration Agencies

The IRS shares information from e-file with the States.  If there is a problem, the States contact the E-Help Desk for resolution.

Tax Counseling for the Elderly

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program provides free tax help to people age 60 and older.  Trained volunteers from nonprofit organizations provide free tax counseling and basic income tax return preparation for senior citizens.  E-filing of tax returns is also offered.

Taxpayer Assistance Centers

The Taxpayer Assistance Centers are IRS offices that offer personal tax help when the taxpayer believes his or her tax issue cannot be handled online or by telephone and the taxpayer wants face-to-face tax assistance.  E‑filing of tax returns is also offered for certain taxpayers.

Transmitters

Transmitters convert the file sent by a taxpayer into a format that meets IRS specifications and transmit it to the IRS.  Transmitters must have software and modems that allow them to connect with IRS computers.  The IRS checks the return and notifies the Transmitter (which then informs the taxpayer) whether the return has been accepted or rejected.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program offers free tax help to low- to moderate‑income people who cannot prepare their own tax returns.  Basic tax returns are prepared by volunteers across the country.  E-filing of tax returns is also offered.

 

Appendix VI

 

Electronic Products Supported by the E-Help Desk

 

E-file:[24]

·         U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040).

·         U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (Form 1040A).

·         Income Tax Return for Single and Joint Filers With No Dependents (Form 1040EZ).

·         Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (Form 4868).

·         Application for Extension of Time To File U.S. Income Tax Return (Form 2350).

·         Installment Agreement Request (Form 9465).

·         Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship (Form 56).

·         Self-Select Personal Identification Number.

·         Practitioner Personal Identification Number.

·         Combined Federal State.[25]

·         U.S. Individual Income Tax Declaration for an IRS e-file Return (Form 8453).

·         U.S. Individual Income Tax Declaration for an IRS e-file Online Return
(Form 8453-OL).

·         Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return (Form 941).

·         Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return (Form 940).

·         U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts (Form 1041).

·         U.S. Return of Partnership Income (Form 1065).

·         Modernized e-file.

EFTPS:[26]

·         EFTPS Online.

·         EFTPS Phone.

·         EFTPS Batch Provider.

·         EFTPS Bulk Provider.

E-Services:[27]

·         Registration.

·         E-file Application.

·         Disclosure Authorization.

·         Preparer Taxpayer Identification Number.

·         Transcript Delivery System.

·         Electronic Account Resolution.

·         Interactive and Bulk Taxpayer Identification Number Matching.

Central Contractor Registration:[28]

·         North American Industry Classification System Codes.

·         Standard Industrial Classification Codes.

·         Product Service Codes.

·         Federal Supply Classification Codes.

 

Appendix VII

 

Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

The response was removed due to its size.  To see the response, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.



[1] E-Help Desk assistors enter information about the callers, the nature of the calls, and the resolutions into electronic cases called e-cases.

[2] To ensure the consistency of responses provided to customers, the E-Help Desk uses a set of predefined solutions for common problems.

[3] The E-Help Support System documents the history of customers’ contacts with the E-Help Desk.

[4] E-services is not available to the general public.  Only approved IRS business partners, such as electronic filing tax professionals and payers, are eligible to participate in e-services.

[5] As of August 31, 2006.

[6] Figure 1 includes only those inquiries that originated from an incoming call.  These represent 99 percent of contacts to the E-Help Desk.

[7] IRS data included in Figures 1-5 are provided for perspective only and were not audited.

[8] Contractors doing business with the Federal Government are required to register their companies.  The Central Contractor Registration is the means by which companies register.

[9] The E-Help Solutions Board establishes the procedures for submission and approval of solutions.

[10] A Reporting Agent is an accounting service, a franchiser, a bank, or other person who is authorized to prepare electronically an Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return (Form 940), Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return (Form 941), and Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return (Form 944).

[11] Totals for Fiscal Year 2006 are as of September 21, 2006; September 22, 2006; September 18, 2006; and
August 31, 2006, respectively.

[12] Total was rounded for readability.

[13] The TeleFile Program allowed taxpayers to file simple tax returns by telephone. 

[14] The solutions were expired or superseded based on a March 2006 BSBA office initiative to review all solutions.

[15] The EHSS data extract included contacts for both open and resolved cases made with the E-Help Desk during the period July 9, 2004, through June 1, 2006.

[16] As of August 3, 2006.

[17] Represents e-cases included in the E-Help Desk Solutions Database from May 2004 to July 2006.

[18] The IRS database that consists of Federal tax-related transactions and accounts for businesses.  These include employment taxes, income taxes on businesses, and excise taxes. 

[19] U.S. Return of Partnership Income (Form 1065); U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return (Form 1120); and U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts (Form 1041).

[20] Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return (Form 940) and Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return (Form 941).

[21] Our projections, based on the best data available, are conservative because e‑cases were not always created for incoming calls.

[22] A nine-digit number assigned to taxpayers for identification purposes.  Depending upon the nature of the taxpayer, the Taxpayer Identification Number is an Employer Identification Number, a Social Security Number, or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

[23] A Reporting Agent is an accounting service, a franchiser, a bank, or other person who is authorized to prepare electronically an Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return (Form 940), Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return (Form 941), and Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return (Form 944).

[24] The process of submitting tax forms over the Internet, using computers and tax preparation software.

[25] The Combined Federal State project allows for Transmitters of Information Return Program documents on tape to file once with the IRS instead of having to file with both the IRS and the participating State income tax agencies.

[26] The EFTPS allows taxpayers and tax professionals to use the telephone, personal computer software, or the Internet to initiate tax payments.

[27] The multiple e-services offered by the IRS to tax professionals and payers to allow them to conduct business with the IRS electronically.

[28] The primary registrant database for the Federal Government.  The Central Contractor Registration collects, validates, stores, and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions.