TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION

 

 

Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program

 

 

 

August 26, 2011

 

Reference Number:  2011-40-094

 

 

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.

 

Redaction Legend:

3(d) =  Identifying Information

 

Phone Number   |  202-622-6500

Email Address   |  TIGTACommunications@tigta.treas.gov

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

 

HIGHLIGHTS

 

ACCURACY OF TAX RETURNS, THE QUALITY ASSURANCE PROCESSES, AND SECURITY OF TAXPAYER INFORMATION REMAIN PROBLEMS FOR THE VOLUNTEER PROGRAM

 

Highlights

Final Report issued on August 26, 2011

Highlights of Reference Number:  2011-40-094 to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner for the Wage and Investment Division.

IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS

The Volunteer Program plays an important role in achieving the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) goal of improving taxpayer service and facilitating participation in the tax system.  It provides no‑cost Federal tax return preparation and electronic filing directed toward underserved segments of individual taxpayers, including low‑income to moderate-income, elderly, disabled, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers.  However, preparing accurate tax returns remains a challenge for the Volunteer Program.

WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT

This was a follow-up audit to prior TIGTA reviews to determine whether taxpayers visiting IRS Volunteer Program sites receive quality service, including accurate tax returns.

WHAT TIGTA FOUND

The accuracy rates for tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites decreased sharply from the 2010 Filing Season.  Of the 36 tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors, only 14 (39 percent) were prepared correctly.  Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers did not follow all guidelines.  For example, volunteers did not always use the intake sheets correctly.  For three (14 percent) of the 22 incorrectly prepared tax returns, volunteers knowingly modified the facts the auditors presented.

The IRS has implemented an extensive quality review process, but it has limitations and may not be providing reliable results.  Unlike when auditors pose as a taxpayer and visit a volunteer tax preparation site to have a tax return prepared, during the Quality Statistical Sample Reviews, volunteers are aware that IRS staff are onsite to review the tax returns they are preparing.

Current steps and processes do not ensure the integrity of volunteers, even though the volunteers have access to taxpayers’ Personally Identifiable Information, such as Social Security Numbers, driver licenses, and home addresses.  The IRS does have a process to help ensure willful acts of fraud occurring at Volunteer Program sites can be reported, but improvements are needed.

WHAT TIGTA RECOMMENDED

TIGTA recommended and the Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, agreed to:  1) evaluate the Quality Statistical Sample Review process to ensure it is the best use of resources; 2) include anonymous shopping visits as part of the quality review process; 3) improve controls over Volunteer Standards of Conduct  (Form 13615); 4) develop a process to ensure all volunteers are following the guidance focusing on the integrity of the Volunteer Program and the security of taxpayer information; 5) revise the Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet (Form 13614-C) and the 1-877-330-1205 telephone line scripts to advise taxpayers on how to obtain refund information; 6) review the IRS fraud hotline procedures to determine best practices; and 7) ensure telephone and email contacts are effectively controlled.

 

August 26, 2011

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

FROM:                            Michael R. Phillips /s/ Michael R. Phillips

                                         Deputy Inspector General for Audit

 

SUBJECT:                    Final Audit Report – Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program (Audit # 201140006)

 

This report presents the results of our review to determine whether taxpayers visiting Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Program[1] sites receive quality service, including accurate tax returns.  This was a follow-up audit to prior Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reviews[2] and is part of our Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Audit Plan.  The audit addresses the major management challenge of Providing Quality Taxpayer Service Operations.

Management’s complete response to the draft report is included in Appendix X.

Copies of this report are also being sent to the Internal Revenue Service managers affected by the report recommendations.  Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or Michael E. McKenney, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Returns Processing and Account Services), at (202) 622-5916.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Background

Results of Review

The Accuracy of Tax Returns Remains a Challenge for the Volunteer Program

Recommendations 1 and 2:

Current Procedures Need to Be Strengthened to Ensure the Integrity of the Volunteers and the Security of Taxpayer Information

Recommendations 3 and 4:

Recommendations 5 through 7:

Appendices

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV – Cities and States Visited to Have Tax Returns Prepared

Appendix V – Accuracy Rate by Tax Topic

Appendix VI – Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet

Appendix VII – Volunteer Agreement Standards of Conduct – VITA/TCE Programs

Appendix VIII – General Characteristics of Tax Returns Prepared by the Volunteer Program During Calendar Year 2011

Appendix IX – Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Audit Reports on the Volunteer Tax Return Preparation Program

Appendix X – Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

 

Abbreviations

 

IRS

Internal Revenue Service

QSS

Quality Statistical Sample

SPEC

Stakeholder Partnerships, Education, and Communication

TCE

Tax Counseling for the Elderly

VITA

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

 

 

Background

 

Volunteers play an increasingly important role in helping the IRS achieve its goal of improving taxpayer service and facilitating participation in the tax system.

The Volunteer Program plays an important role in achieving the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) goal of improving taxpayer service and facilitating participation in the tax system.  It provides no-cost Federal tax return preparation and electronic filing directed toward underserved segments of individual taxpayers, including low-income to moderate-income, elderly, disabled, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers.  It includes sites operated in partnership with the military and with various community-based organizations.[3]  The Volunteer Program is comprised of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program, and the VITA Grant Program.

The VITA Program was originated in 1969 due to enactment of the Tax Reform Act of 1969[4] and an increased emphasis on taxpayer education programs.  The IRS has placed continual emphasis on expanding the VITA Program through increased recruitment of various religious, social and nonprofit, corporate, financial, educational, and government organizations; involvement of the military on a national level; and expansion of assistance provided to the  limited-English-proficient community.

The TCE Program began with the Revenue Act of 1978[5] that authorized the IRS to enter into agreements with private or nongovernmental public nonprofit agencies and organizations to provide training and technical assistance to volunteers who provide free tax counseling and assistance to elderly individuals in the preparation of their Federal income tax returns.  The law authorizes an appropriation of special funds, in the form of grants, to provide tax assistance to persons age 60 and older.  The IRS receives the funds as a line item in the budget appropriation.  The total funds are distributed to the sponsors[6] for their expenses.

Since Fiscal Year 2009, the IRS has granted funds for the VITA Grant Program.  For the 2011 Filing Season, 179 organizations were awarded $12 million in matching grants.  The grants are to be used to increase the capacity to file tax returns electronically and enhance training of volunteers at VITA sites.

For Fiscal Year 2010, 87,602 volunteers staffed a total of 12,326 VITA and TCE sites.  Volunteers prepared approximately 1.8 million individual income tax returns at VITA sites and approximately 1.3 million at TCE sites.  Figure 1 provides key production data for Fiscal Years 2008 through 2010.

Figure 1:  Key VITA/TCE Production Data
for Fiscal Years 20082010

 

Fiscal Year 2008

Fiscal Year 2009

Fiscal Year 2010

Percentage Change*

VITA

 

 

 

 

Paper

247,828

145,828

153,998

5.60%

Electronically Filed

1,339,023

1,608,605

1,631,617

1.43%

Total VITA Tax Returns

1,586,851

1,754,433

1,785,615

1.78%

Total VITA Sites

4,991

6,468

5,845

-9.63%

Total VITA Volunteers

46,610

47,964

52,296

9.03%

TCE

 

 

 

 

Paper

326,555

111,502

88,385

-20.73%

Electronically Filed

1,563,879

1,165,843

1,196,898

2.66%

Total TCE Tax Returns

1,890,434

1,277,345

1,285,283

0.62%

Number of Sites

6,849

5,692

6,481

13.86%

Number of Volunteers

32,233

34,689

35,306

1.78%

TOTALS

 

 

 

 

Tax Returns[7]

3,477,285

3,031,778

3,070,898

1.29%

Sites

11,840

12,160

12,326

1.37%

Volunteers

78,843

82,653

87,602

5.99%

Source:  IRS management information system containing information for Fiscal Years 2008 through 2010.
* = Percentage change is calculated using the change from Fiscal Year 2009 to 2010
.

This audit included an assessment of tax returns prepared at VITA sites and TCE/AARP sponsored sites.  Figure 2 provides a breakdown of the Volunteer Program and the percentage of tax returns prepared during the 2010 Filing Season.

Figure 2:  Percentage of Tax Returns Prepared at the Volunteer Program Sites During Fiscal Year 2010

Figure 2 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 2, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

The IRS SPEC function is responsible for providing oversight for the Volunteer Program, which includes determining policies and procedures, developing products and training material, and monitoring and managing Volunteer Program activity.  The SPEC function’s concept of operations includes looking for opportunities to assist third parties to help taxpayers understand and meet their tax obligations by promoting collaboration among tax practitioners, tax preparers, and community-based partners to support the Volunteer Program.

Tax scenarios used by auditors reflected tax topics volunteers were trained to handle for taxpayers seeking assistance from the Volunteer Program

Three scenarios were designed for auditors to use as they posed as taxpayers having tax returns prepared by volunteers (referred to as shopping).  The scenarios were developed to use characteristics of taxpayers who visit Volunteer Program sites to have a tax return prepared and tax law topics that assessed the volunteers’ use of the tools the SPEC function created to ensure that accurate tax returns are prepared.  The scenarios included only tax topics for which the volunteers had been trained.

In addition, although most tax returns prepared by volunteers are prepared for taxpayers who file Single with no dependents, auditors used two scenarios that included tax topics dealing with dependents and credits.  About three quarters (2.3 of 3.1 million) of the taxpayers who use the Volunteer Program tax preparation assistance receive tax refunds.  Three credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Additional Child Tax Credit, contributed to 41 percent ($1.6 of $3.9 billion) of the tax refunds issued to taxpayers who had their tax returns prepared by volunteers in the 2011 Filing Season.  These credits generally require that taxpayers have dependents to claim the credits.  Figure 3 shows the amount of refunds generated by Tax Year 2011 returns prepared by the Volunteer Program.

Figure 3:  Refunds or Balances Due Generated From Tax Returns
Filed as of May 9, 2011, Prepared by the Volunteer Program[8]

Refund Due/
Balance Due

Dollar
Totals

Tax Return Volume

Percentage of Tax Return Volume

Refunds Due

$3,924,877,622

2,340,925

76.38%

Balances Due

$445,195,385

459,933

15.01%

Breakeven

$0

263,969

8.61%

Credits Claimed

Dollar
Totals

Tax Return Volume

Earned Income Tax

$1,001,382,805

683,926

Additional Child Tax

$352,706,061

306,749

Child Tax

$246,336,806

245,132

Total

$1,600,425,672

 

Source:  Our analysis of IRS management information system containing all Tax Year 2011
tax returns filed as of May 9, 2011.

The following are the three scenarios used by auditors during the 2011 Filing Season. 

Scenario 1  The taxpayer was single, had never been married, and lived with his or her sister.  The taxpayer had 1 child/grandchild, age 8, who lived with the taxpayer in the home approximately 3 months during the summer.  The child lived with the mother/father during the school year, for approximately 9 months.  During Calendar Year 2010, the taxpayer worked at a school as a teacher’s aide/assistant, at a home improvement store, and at a local retail store.  Total income reported on the 2010 Wage and Tax Statement (Form W-2) was $17,034.  The taxpayer received a 2010 Interest Income (Form 1099-INT) totaling $7.35.  The taxpayer spent $350.00 for school supplies and contributed $384.69 toward a Health Savings Account.

An accurately prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer receiving a refund of $461.  The taxpayer’s filing status was Single.  The taxpayer could not claim the child as a dependent and did not qualify for the Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit.  The taxpayer was eligible for a $400 Making Work Pay Credit.

Scenario 2  The taxpayer was divorced and lived with his or her 9-year-old child/grandchild.  The taxpayer received $300 a month for child support and had dependent care expenses totaling $1,370.  During Calendar Year 2010, the taxpayer was paid biweekly, contributed $1,263 to a 401(k) retirement plan, and had wages reported on the 2010 Forms W-2 totaling $29,232.  The taxpayer also received a 2010 Form 1099‑INT totaling $4.13.

An accurately prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer receiving a refund of $2,827.  The filing status was Head of Household.  The taxpayer could claim a dependency exemption, qualified for a $1,008 Earned Income Tax Credit, a $935 Child Tax Credit, a $65 Additional Child Tax Credit, and a $370 Child and Dependent Care Credit.  The taxpayer also was eligible to claim a $126 Retirement Savings Contributions Credit and a $400 Making Work Pay Credit.

Scenario 3  The taxpayer was single with no dependents and shared an apartment with a friend.  During Calendar Year 2010, the taxpayer was employed at a home improvement center and had a 2010 Form W‑2 reporting wages of $18,435.  The taxpayer was also self-employed and had self-employed income totaling $17,800 and business expenses totaling $4,735.  The taxpayer had no taxable income in Calendar Year 2009.

An accurately prepared tax return would result in the taxpayer owing $3,267, including self-employment taxes.  The filing status was Single.  The taxpayer was eligible for a $400 Making Work Pay Credit.  The taxpayer was not subject to the estimated tax penalty.

This review was performed at the IRS SPEC function in the Wage and Investment Division in Atlanta, Georgia, during the period December 2010 through May 2011.  In addition, from February through April 2011, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration auditors performed 36 anonymous visits (called shopping) and had 36 tax returns prepared at 36 judgmentally selected Volunteer Program sites located in 12 States.  Three different sites were selected in each State.  Appendix IV provides a list of the 12 States and the specific cities where the sites were located.

We conducted this performance audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.  Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.  We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objective.  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

 

The Accuracy of Tax Returns Remains a Challenge for the Volunteer Program

The accuracy rates for tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites decreased sharply from the 2010 Filing Season.  Of the 36 tax returns prepared for our auditors, 14 (39 percent) were prepared correctly and 22 (61 percent) were prepared incorrectly.  The accuracy rate should not be projected to the entire population of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites.  Nevertheless, if the 22 incorrect tax returns had been filed:  15 (68 percent) taxpayers would not have been refunded $3,874 to which they were entitled; 3 (14 percent) taxpayers would not have owed $9,799 (and would have received improper refunds of $802);[9] and 4 (18 percent) taxpayers would have owed an additional $768 in tax and/or penalties.

Figure 4 shows the accuracy rates of tax returns prepared for our auditors for the 2004 through 2011 Filing Seasons.[10]  Tax returns were not prepared correctly because volunteers did not obtain sufficient information to correctly apply the tax law or modified the facts in the scenarios the auditors presented.

Figure 4:  Overall Tax Return Accuracy Rates for the 20042011 Filing Seasons

Figure 4 was removed due to its size.  To see Figure 4, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.

In addition, when using Scenario 3, which if prepared correctly would have resulted in the taxpayer owing taxes, auditors expected the volunteers to educate the taxpayers on the estimated penalty, explaining that it would not be added to the tax return at this time, but the IRS would calculate the penalty for the taxpayer and send a bill, if applicable.  Volunteer Program guidelines instruct the volunteer not to calculate or impose the penalty.  This did not occur when preparing any of the 12 small business tax returns.  However, only 2 (17 percent) of the 12 tax returns were counted as having penalty errors because in those 2 instances the volunteers incorrectly calculated the estimated tax penalty and entered it on the tax returns.  Figure 5 shows the accuracy rate by scenario.

Figure 5:  Overall Tax Return Accuracy Rates
for the 2011 Filing Season

Tax Scenario Used

Number of Tax Returns Prepared Using the Scenario

Accuracy
Rate

Scenario 1

12

25%

Scenario 2

12

50%

Scenario 3

12

42%

Total Accuracy

36

39%

Source:  Tax returns prepared for our auditors by volunteers
during the 2011 Filing Season.

Factors influencing the accuracy rate

With the exception of the 2010 Filing Season, the accuracy rate for tax returns prepared in the Volunteer Program has ranged from 0 to 69 percent.  During the 2010 Filing Season, when the accuracy rate was 90 percent, it became apparent that various factors were influencing the increase in accuracy rate.

  • Volunteers had come to recognize the scenarios the auditors were using to have tax returns prepared.
  • In prior years, one of the criteria for site selection was the volume of tax returns prepared at the sites and trending of sites previously visited.  As such, high volume sites had a higher probability of being tested, which the volunteers had also come to recognize.
  • The IRS was aware of our site visits.  Because auditors were doing other tests at the sites after they had tax returns prepared, IRS employees were onsite to conduct their own review after tax preparation.

Therefore, for the 2011 Filing Season, the scenarios were changed to show multiple sources of income, from self-employed and private businesses.  One scenario resulted in taxes owed instead of a tax refund.  In addition, the criteria for site selection were changed; the volume of tax returns prepared at the sites was not one of the criteria.  This filing season’s site selection was based on audit resources, proximity of sites to major cities, and geographical location of the auditors.  To expand testing to include sites never visited, we eliminated those sites and most cities visited in prior audits.  Finally, after the first six site visits, the IRS was not told which sites were included in the testing and IRS employees were not onsite at any time on the day of the visits.

Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers did not follow all guidelines

Quality service and accurate tax return preparation start with the volunteers asking taxpayers the right questions.  A tax return is accurate when the tax law is applied correctly and the tax return is free from error based on the taxpayer’s interview, his or her supporting documentation, and the completed IRS-approved Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet (Form 13614-C).[11]

During our visits, 33 (92 percent) Forms 13614-C were prepared.  However, only 13 (36 percent) of 36 volunteers ensured Form 13614-C was completed and used to prepare the tax returns.  Of 23 (64 percent) tax returns prepared by volunteers who did not appropriately use an intake sheet, 17 (74 percent) of the 23 tax returns were prepared incorrectly.  In addition, for the 36 sites visited:

  • 16 (44 percent) volunteers did not verify identity or address.
  • 20 (56 percent) volunteers did not conduct an interview to verify the accuracy of the Form 13614-C.
  • 24 (67 percent) volunteers did not engage in a conversation to help identify other tax law issues that may affect the tax return. 
  • 35 (97 percent) volunteers did not explain that the taxpayer has the ultimate responsibility for the tax return.

The Form 13614-C guides volunteer tax return preparers through taxpayer interviews and allows them to gather all necessary information to prepare accurate tax returns.  The intake and interview process must include the following at a minimum:

  • An interview with the taxpayer that includes explaining the tax return preparation process and encouraging him or her to ask questions throughout the interview process.
  • Completion of Form 13614-C or an IRS-approved, partner-developed form asking the questions listed on Form 13614-C or similar questions that will provide the same information.
  • Confirmation of the taxpayer’s responses provided on the Form 13614-C (or similar form).
  • Use of probing questions to ensure that complete information is gathered.
  • Review of all supporting documentation and confirmation with the taxpayer that all income was discussed and noted on the Form 13614-C to ensure that it will be included on the tax return.
  • Beginning with the 2010 Filing Season, the IRS mandated that all Volunteer Program sites that received grant funding use the Form 13614-C.  All other sites may use their own intake sheet, but it must be IRS-approved.  During the 2010 Filing Season when the accuracy rate was 90 percent, only 2 (5 percent) of the 39 tax returns prepared for auditors were prepared without the volunteers using the Form 13614-C.  During the 2009 Filing Season review, 22 percent did not use it, and during the 2008 Filing Season review, 33 percent of the volunteers did not use the Form 13614-C.  The accuracy rates were 59 and 69 percent, respectively.

The SPEC function should continue to educate volunteers and employees to reinforce quality review guidelines.

Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers modified the facts in the scenarios the auditors presented 

For 3 (14 percent) of the 22 incorrectly prepared tax returns, volunteers knowingly modified the facts the auditors presented—2 by either removing or reducing the self-employment income and 1 by allowing a dependency exemption for a child who the volunteer knew did not meet the requirements of a qualifying child.  Had these 3 tax returns been filed by actual taxpayers, modifications of the facts would have resulted in the understatement of balance due taxes for 2 tax returns in the amount of $6,933.  One tax return was prepared on paper and reflected numerous errors, including a math error, which counteracted the benefit of improperly allowing the dependency exemption.  The tax return resulted in a receipt of a net refund that was understated by $96.

In two instances when Scenario 3 was presented, the volunteers questioned the auditors on whether the services provided (the self-employment income) were paid by cash or check.  When the auditors responded that they were paid by both, one volunteer reduced the self-employment income amount by the amount of the cash.  However, in the second instance, the volunteer removed all self-employment income and expenses from the tax return.  ******3(d)**

*************************************3(d)****************************.

In a third instance when using Scenario 1, the auditor was asked if the child lived with him or her.  The auditor responded that the child lived with the other parent.  The volunteer then asked if the other parent was going to claim the child, and the auditor stated that he or she was not aware if the other parent filed a tax return.  ****************************************3(d)***************************************** *********************************************************.

The SPEC function took immediate action when notified of the irregularities

We contacted SPEC function officials immediately to share the irregularities identified at the three Volunteer Program sites.  They took immediate action, including:

·         Deactivating the Electronic Filing Identification Number at sites where incidents occurred.

·         Closing all three sites as of March 31, 2011, and requiring that all three closed sites return all IRS property and materials.

·         Suspending all volunteers from the three affected sites from working in the Volunteer Program and placing all organizations and their affiliates on temporary probation pending certification that sufficient corrective actions have been taken. 

·         Holding partner conference calls to discuss these incidents along with expectations for ethical behavior.

The SPEC function also conducted post-filing season events, including a webinar[12] emphasizing the importance of volunteer ethics and integrity.  In addition, the SPEC function is considering the following for the 2012 Filing Season: 

  • Mandating that all partners use Form 13614-C.
  • Implementing a full-scale SPEC function shopping initiative.
  • Requiring that all partners certify that volunteers have taken a SPEC function developed Ethics and Integrity Presentation.
  • Broadcasting a webinar featuring key IRS and partner executives detailing ethics expectations.

The IRS has implemented an extensive quality review process, but it has limitations and may not be providing reliable results

The SPEC function has a substantial quality review process that includes:

1.      A 100 percent Quality Review at the volunteer sites of every tax return before it is filed.  These reviews are generally conducted by a designated quality reviewer using a quality review tool designed to ensure the accuracy of the taxpayer’s return.  

2.      Quality Statistical Sample (QSS) Reviews.  Starting with the 2009 Filing Season, the IRS began relying on a specially trained cadre of 18 tax specialists to visit a statistically valid sample of Volunteer Program sites to review a random sample of tax returns for accuracy.  During a QSS Review, cadre members randomly select for review three tax returns that have not yet been signed by the taxpayers.  Tax return accuracy is determined by verifying the taxpayer’s identity and comparing the completed tax return to the completed Form 13614-C and the taxpayer’s supporting documents.  It is from this review that the SPEC function determines and reports its accuracy rate.

3.      Post Reviews of selected QSS Reviews.  Using tax returns from QSS Reviews, analysts ensure the case files provide adequate documentation to make an accuracy assessment and validate that the tax returns were prepared correctly.  Reviews are selected by the Statistics of Income function using a random sample of all QSS Reviews planned for the 2011 Filing Season.

4.      Criteria Reviews.  In Fiscal Year 2008, the SPEC function began conducting Criteria Reviews.  These reviews are unannounced and include post-preparation reviews of a minimum of three returns and measuring the sites’ adherence to Quality Site Requirements.  A minimum of 5 percent of the Volunteer Program sites are to be selected using the following criteria:

·         New sites opened.

·         Existing sites with a new site coordinator.

·         VITA and TCE Grant sites.

·         Sites with a prior year finding of noncompliance to one or more quality site requirements or inaccurate return preparation based on QSS Reviews, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reviews, or Criteria Reviews.

·         Manager discretion.

5.      Field Site Visits.  SPEC function Territory Offices[13] select a minimum of 15 percent of the Volunteer Program sites to conduct field site visits.  During these visits, the Territory Office will cover a series of key issues that include (but are not limited to):

·         Fraud awareness and prevention.

·         Adherence to quality site requirements.

·         Site and data security.

·         Financial education and asset-building opportunities.

·         Key tax law issues.

During Calendar Year 2010, the SPEC function conducted more than 3,700 site visits and during Calendar Year 2011, as of May 7, 2011, more than 3,400 site visits.

Volunteers are not following the quality review process guidelines

Since Fiscal Year 2004, the SPEC function and its volunteer organization/partners have worked to educate and train volunteers about the benefits of following quality assurance processes during the preparation of every tax return.  For every tax return prepared, volunteers are required to ensure that there is an interview process to confirm a complete and accurate understanding of the taxpayer’s information, and that each tax return is subjected to a 100 percent Quality Review.

A quality review process at each site must be used to confirm that the tax law was correctly applied and that the tax return is free from error and has been prepared correctly based on all available information.  A quality review process at each site must contain the following critical components for an effective and thorough quality review of the tax return:

1.     The taxpayer should participate in the quality review process.

2.     The quality reviewer is required to use a standardized Quality Review Sheet.

3.     The quality reviewer is required to use the available supporting documents to confirm identity, income, expenses, and credits on the return.

If applicable, the quality reviewer may have to refer to the VITA/TCE Volunteer Resource Guide (Publication 4012) and/or Your Federal Income Tax (Publication 17)

For each of the 22 tax returns prepared incorrectly, elements of the requirements were not followed.  For example:

  • 5 (23 percent) incorrect tax returns were not quality reviewed.
  • 8 (36 percent) quality reviewers did not refer to the Intake Sheet.
  • 9 (41 percent) quality reviewers did not refer to the source documents. 
  • 11 (50 percent) auditors were not involved in the quality review process.

Section C of Form 13614-C is to be completed by certified quality reviewers.  Of the 33 sites where Forms 13614-C were prepared, only 8 (24 percent) of the forms showed that Section C was completed.  Figure 6 provides an excerpt of Form 13614-C.

 

Figure 6:  Excerpt From Form 13614-C

Section C. To be completed by a Certified Quality Reviewer

After reviewing the tax return and verifying that it reflects correct tax law application to the information provided by the taxpayer, check the final item.

1.     Sections A & B of this form are complete.

2.     Taxpayer’s Identity, Address and Phone Number were verified.

3.     Names, SSN or ITINs, and dates of birth of taxpayer, spouse and dependents match the supporting documents.

4.     Filing Status is correctly determined.

5.     Personal and Dependency Exemptions are entered correctly on the return.

6.     All Income shown on source documents and noted in Section A, Part III is included on the tax return.

7.     Any Adjustments to Income are correctly reported.

8.     Standard, Additional or Itemized Deductions are correct.

9.     All Credits are correctly reported.

10.  Withholding shown on Forms W-2,1099 and Estimated Tax Payments are correctly reported.

11.  If Direct Deposit or Debit was elected, checking/saving account and routing information.

12.  Correct SIDN is shown on the return.

Check if the items above have been verified to validate accuracy based on your interview with the taxpayer and a second review of their source documents

Source:  Form 13614-C.  SIDN = Site Identification Number.

QSS Reviews are not anonymous and may influence tax preparation sites under review

Unlike when auditors pose as taxpayers and visit volunteer tax preparation sites to have a tax return prepared, during the QSS Review, volunteers are aware that IRS staff are onsite to review the tax returns they are preparing.  Knowing the reviewer is onsite introduces bias and could lead volunteers to be more quality conscious and more apt to adhere to quality processes than they would have been otherwise.  Individuals improve or modify an aspect of their behavior simply in response to the fact that they are being studied.  Consequently, the QSS Reviewer may not be obtaining reliable results or a reliable perspective of the tax return preparation operations.

The IRS has used shopping as part of the quality review process.  During the 2008 Filing Season, volunteers prepared 85 tax returns for SPEC function shoppers with a 75 percent accuracy rate.  During the 2009 Filing Season, the IRS performed 65 shopping reviews that showed 44 (68 percent) tax returns were prepared accurately.  The sites selected were not part of a statistically valid sample and, therefore, were not representative of the accuracy rate for the entire Volunteer Program.  However, observations from the 2009 Filing Season shopping visits showed that:

·         25 percent of the sites did not perform the required quality review of the tax returns.

·         68 percent of the sites did not effectively use the required intake and interview sheet during tax return preparation.

The IRS may again conduct shopping visits, but stated that limited resources would preclude it from using a statically valid sample; therefore, the results will not be used to report the accuracy of the Volunteer Program tax return preparation.  The SPEC function continues to believe that the QSS Reviews, which use a statistically valid sample of Volunteer Program sites, provide a valid accuracy rate for randomly selected tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites and are a better use of resources.  During the 2011 Filing Season, QSS Reviewers visited 245 Program sites and reviewed 724 tax returns resulting in an 87 percent accuracy rate.  The SPEC function estimates that the cost for the QSS Reviews is approximately $817,000,[14] which includes labor and travel.

In order for the results of a shopping initiative to be statistically valid and representative of all tax returns prepared by the Volunteer Program, the IRS would have to visit a statistically valid sample of Volunteer program sites and have one tax return prepared.  To gain a larger sample comparable to the current QSS Reviews, the SPEC function could select a cluster sample of sites geographically and have two additional tax returns prepared at sites in the same geographical area as the first site selected.  This methodology would provide the IRS with a better perspective and representation of the accuracy of Volunteer Program tax return preparation.

Replacing the QSS Reviews with a shopping initiative would improve the reliability of the accuracy rate and potentially provide statistically valid results.  However, a shopping initiative is not without challenges, including protecting the anonymity of the shoppers year after year.  Nevertheless, it is the optimum way to test both the accuracy of the tax returns and the taxpayer experience while visiting Volunteer Program sites.

The Volunteer Program is an important tax return preparation program and is dependent on volunteers

Partner organizations and their volunteers play a significant role in the IRS’s tax return preparation program.  The strengths of the Volunteer Program lie with the partner organizations and their volunteers.  However, as the IRS demonstrated this year, when improprieties are identified with volunteers, it takes immediate action.

There are more than 12,000 volunteer tax preparation sites.  Testing has shown that when an IRS employee is onsite, the volunteers are more apt to follow all guidelines and procedures, thus preparing accurate tax returns.  However, it would require extensive resources to have an IRS employee continually at a Volunteer Program site.

The IRS requires that volunteers be tested and certified.  It provides extensive tax aids and tax preparation software volunteers may use to prepare tax returns.  Nevertheless, tax law is complex.  Although the Volunteer Program prepares less complex tax returns, family situations are often complicated and unique.  To correctly apply the complex tax law concerning filing status, exemption, and related credits, volunteers must ensure they have a complete understanding of the taxpayers’ family situations.  The requirements a taxpayer must meet to qualify for Head of Household filing status may not be the same as those the taxpayer must meet to claim a qualifying person as a dependent or to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and/or Child Tax Credit.

The IRS has taken numerous actions and committed significant resources to increase the accuracy of tax returns prepared by volunteers.  The IRS estimates the cost of the Volunteer Program quality review staff and QSS Reviews for the period October 1, 2010, to May 17, 2011, at about $1.4 million.  Adding a shopping initiative would increase the costs of the Volunteer Program but is essential to ensure the integrity of the Program.

Recommendations

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

Recommendation 1:  Evaluate the QSS Review process to ensure it is the best use of resources and provides the best representation of the accuracy rate of the Volunteer Program.  

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The SPEC function worked closely with the Statistics of Income function to create an efficient process to produce a statistically valid estimate of the quality of services provided by the Volunteer Program sites.  To date, the QSS Review is the only measure that meets this requirement.

Recommendation 2:  Include anonymous shopping visits as part of the quality review process.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The SPEC function has plans to conduct anonymous shopping visits during the 2012 Filing Season.

Current Procedures Need to Be Strengthened to Ensure the Integrity of the Volunteers and the Security of Taxpayer Information

We reported in September 2008 that current procedures need to be strengthened to ensure the integrity of the volunteers.[15]  The IRS has application processes and procedures in place to ensure that volunteer applicants meet certain criteria.  However, these steps and processes do not ensure the integrity of volunteers, even though the volunteers have access to taxpayers’ Personally Identifiable Information such as Social Security Numbers, driver licenses, and home addresses.  Because volunteers have access to taxpayer information, there is a potential risk of refund fraud and/or identity theft.

Improprieties, including four taxpayers’ tax returns that included a volunteer’s direct deposit routing and account number, were identified at a Volunteer Program site.  As a result, taxpayer refunds would have been deposited to the volunteer’s bank account rather than the taxpayers’ accounts.  ****3(d)**************************************************************************************************.

Volunteer Program applicants are not subjected to background checks

The IRS requires the following to ensure the integrity of its volunteers:

·      Privacy and Confidentiality-A Public Trust (Publication 4299).  This Publication serves as the central document for providing guidance covering the privacy, confidentiality, and security of all information received at Volunteer Program sites.

·      Sponsor Agreement (Form 13533).  Sponsors must sign Form 13533.  New Forms are requested from existing partners (or sponsors) when significant changes are made to Publication 4299. 

·      Volunteer Agreement Standards of Conduct – VITA/TCE Programs (Form 13615).  Volunteers must annually sign Form 13615 before their volunteer service begins.  It is solicited during or subsequent to training.  Form 13615 serves two purposes:  1) obtains the volunteer’s agreement to the standards of conduct and 2) provides the IRS and/or partner a place to record the level of training received.

·      Application Package and Guidelines for Managing a TCE Program (Publication 1101).  This package contains current TCE Program guidelines.

 

Unlike other organizations that require potential volunteers to be subject to a background check, the IRS does not require its applicants to undergo a background check.  In the 2008 Volunteer Program report, we recommended that the IRS revise the Volunteer Standards of Conduct (Form 13615) to include a question to determine whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime and have the applicant sign the Form under penalty of perjury.  For the long term, the IRS should also conduct a study to evaluate the applicability and feasibility of standards used by other volunteer organizations.

The IRS decided that it would discuss this issue with its partners because the volunteers work for them and not directly for the IRS.  During Fiscal Year 2009 QSS Reviews, reviewers asked partners if they had a concern with the IRS adding the following question to Form 13615:  In the last 7 years have you been arrested, or charged with, or convicted of a felony?  Of the 216 respondents, 81 percent did not have a concern with adding this question.  However, the partners sought definitive guidance from the IRS as to what actions to take if a volunteer responded positively to this question.  The IRS is currently working with IRS Counsel and its partners before making a final decision about adding this question to Form 13615.

In addition, the SPEC function has determined that most national partners support background checks.  In December 2009, IRS Counsel determined that it is within SPEC function’s discretion to review the background of its volunteers.  However, IRS Counsel also stated that there are currently no Federal laws that would prohibit a convicted felon from either preparing returns or being a volunteer at a Federal agency.  Regardless, SPEC function officials stated that background checks for the more than 80,000 volunteers would be too costly for either the IRS or its Volunteer Program partners.  

Current procedures are not always followed

The Form 13615 is often referred to as the standards of conduct and is solicited annually during or subsequent to training.  It serves two purposes—it obtains the volunteer’s agreement to the standards of conduct for the Volunteer Program and provides the IRS and/or partners a place to record the level of training received and the corresponding test scores used to determine whether a volunteer is certified to provide return preparation and/or tax law assistance.  The Form 13615 is required for all volunteers before working at a site.

An analysis of 166 Forms 13615 from the 30 volunteer sites visited showed most Forms were signed and dated by the volunteer, but not certified by the IRS or partner.  Of 166 Forms 13615:

  • *******************3(d)*****************************************,[16] *************************** ********************************************************************************** .
  • 66 (40 percent) were certified by the IRS or a Volunteer Program partner.
  • 77 (46 percent) were not certified.

In addition, not all Forms 13615 were signed by the volunteers.  Figure 7 provides the results of an analysis of Forms 13615.

Figure 7:  Analysis of 166 Forms 13615

Issue

Percentage of
Forms 13615

Signed by the Volunteer

90%

Dated by the Volunteer

87%

Volunteer Dated After Site Visit

2%

                                                                            Source:  Our analysis of Forms 13615.

Ensuring the Forms 13615 are timely reviewed and certified will become more important if the IRS moves forward with revising the Form 13615 to include a question asking the applicant if he or she has been arrested, or charged with, or convicted of a felony.

Controls over the completion of Forms 13615 need improvement

The IRS provides significant guidance on which volunteers require certification to ensure tax returns are completed accurately.

Volunteers that answer tax law questions, instruct tax law, prepare or correct tax returns, or quality review returns must pass the IRS certification test annually.  Volunteers that instruct and/or conduct quality site reviews must, at a minimum, complete the Intermediate certification, unless the site prepares more advanced returns.  An important aspect of providing quality service to the taxpayer is providing an accurate return.

Volunteers assisting in roles that do not require tax law knowledge or provide tax law assistance do not require certification.  These roles include but are not limited to:

·         Site coordinator.

·         Greeter.

·         Recruiter.

·         Equipment coordinator.

·         Computer specialist.

·         Interpreter.

However, there is guidance requiring all volunteers adhere to the same standards of conduct as those who prepare tax returns.  These guidelines are not always followed and there is no effective process to ensure volunteers adhere to the guidelines.  All volunteers are required to sign Form 13615 agreeing to the standards of conduct.  Of the 166 Forms 13615 reviewed, 17 (10 percent) volunteers did not sign Form 13615 and 21 (13 percent) volunteers did not date Form 13615.  These volunteers may have access to taxpayer information.   

Unauthorized persons were allowed access to taxpayer information  

*************3(d)************************************************************[17]**********************.  This happened because the Site Coordinator did not follow SPEC function policies and procedures.  SPEC function officials were immediately contacted and a Volunteer Quality Alert was issued emphasizing the policy of securing taxpayer information at all sites.  The individual was removed from the site.  They also counseled the Site Coordinator from the site to ensure in the future that:

·         The Site Coordinator locks the site’s door when the site is not being used.

·         Equipment is locked and taxpayer information is stored in a secure storage area at the end of the day, with only the Site Coordinator having the key.

SPEC function officials stated each site is expected to implement a process to ensure information is adequately protected at all times.  The process should include, but is not limited to, the following: 

·         Ensuring that the information provided during the course of tax return preparation is under the care of volunteers at all times.

·         Using locked storage.  Keeping devices (e.g., diskettes, flash drives, pen drives, key drives, thumb drives) containing taxpayer information secure.

·         Securing the equipment used for electronic tax return preparation and filing.

·         Using passwords to prevent unauthorized access to the computer and software.

·         Using limited or controlled access locations for storing equipment.

Controls over taxpayer referrals need improvement

During the 2011 Filing Season, the IRS improved its process to help ensure taxpayers report willful acts of fraud occurring at Volunteer Program sites.  The IRS established an email address in the 2010 Filing Season and, in the 2011Filing Season, a toll-free telephone number for taxpayers to use to report concerns with the integrity of a volunteer.[18]  When taxpayers choose to call, they do not speak to an IRS employee but are asked to leave a message. 

During the 2011 Filing Season, the IRS received 65 emails and 2,009 telephone calls, which included 1,333 calls that were received and the callers hung up, either without leaving a message or without leaving their contact information.  The SPEC function originally intended this process be used by taxpayers to report fraud; however, the calls to date have been tax law related, refund related, or complaints about volunteer behavior or poor customer service.  The script on the toll-free telephone number states:  

You have reached the voice mailbox for the IRS VITA/TCE Office, where you can leave feedback about your experience visiting a VITA or TCE location.  If you are calling for any other reason, please hang up and call 1-800-829-1040 for assistance.  Employees at this number are not trained to answer tax account related questions.  If you are calling about your experience visiting a VITA or TCE location, feedback is important to us.  Please leave your name, telephone number, or email address and a summary of your concerns.  We will respond within 7 business days.  You may also contact us at wi.voltax@irs.gov.  At the tone, please record your message.

The information on the bottom of page 1 of Form 13614-C provides the taxpayer with the following information:

·         Volunteers assisting with preparing your return are trained to provide quality service and uphold the highest ethical standards.

·         To report any concerns to IRS on site operating issues please call Toll free 1-877-330-1205 or email us at WI.Voltax@irs.gov.

In addition, the IRS has two publications (posters) to alert taxpayers on how to report problems.

·         VITA/TCE Free Tax Programs (Publication 4836).  It is an informational document advising taxpayers of how to report problems encountered at a Volunteer Program site.  It is a downloadable document that can be printed onsite and posted.  It includes an email address and toll-free telephone number for reporting problems. 

·         Help Us Prepare an Accurate Return for You! (Publication 4807).  It is a poster size image of Form 13614-C, with instructions to aid taxpayers in filling out the Intake/Interview Sheet and Quality Review Sheet and includes an email address and toll-free telephone number. 

For most taxpayer concerns, the IRS contacted or attempted to contact the taxpayer to address their issue(s).  For some, the taxpayer did not provide the additional information requested to resolve the issue.  In addition, the IRS does not require that all callers be provided responses.  It only requires that SPEC function employees respond when the callers leave contact information and when the issue cannot be resolved using other available IRS resources.  For example, the SPEC function made the decision to not respond to taxpayers who call asking when they will receive their tax refunds, because the callers could use the toll-free telephone number 1-800-829-1954 or “Where’s My Refund?” on IRS.gov to obtain that information. 

Currently, the SPEC function does not track the calls by assigning control numbers or track the calls so that it can effectively identify trends or easily associate calls with responses.  Improvements are needed to control and track the type of incoming contacts and resolutions.  Without knowing the volume or type of contacts, the IRS will not know what corrective actions, education, or revisions to guidelines are required to address taxpayer concerns.  After discussing this issue with the IRS, it categorized and counted the number of contacts and clarified most resolutions.  Controlling and tracking incoming contacts from initiation to completion help to ensure that all transactions are complete and accurate.

The IRS is still deciding on the intent of the toll-free telephone number and email

In September 2009, the IRS ended a partnership with an organization that had received national attention about allegations of questionable activity.  Although the activities were not related to the Volunteer Program, the IRS stated that it is “absolutely critical that taxpayers have trust in our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program partners.”  The IRS Deputy Commissioner asked the SPEC function to improve processes that are intended to provide reasonable assurance that unethical acts do not occur at Volunteer Program sites.

The IRS developed the email address and toll-free telephone number that taxpayers can use to voice concerns about their experience at the Volunteer Program site.  The original intent was to provide taxpayers and volunteers a method to report their concerns regarding the integrity of a volunteer and/or a site.  However, based on the calls it received during the 2011 Filing Season, the IRS sees merit in continuing the use of this line to also gauge the customer service and/or taxpayer satisfaction with the Volunteer Program.

Nevertheless, adding additional information to the Form 13614-C and telephone script advising taxpayers where to obtain refund and account-related information could assist in limiting the number of telephone calls and emails to Volunteer Program issues.  The Form 13614-C should also advise taxpayers that when calling the toll-free telephone number, they will be leaving a message instead of speaking with an IRS official.  Taxpayers reporting fraud may be reluctant to leave contact information and should be assured that their identity will be kept confidential. 

The IRS has a fraud process in place that instructs the taxpayer on the process to follow to report an individual or company that is suspected of not complying with the tax laws.  The IRS should review this process to determine best practices that can be used for taxpayers to report fraud and integrity issues with the Volunteer Program.

Recommendations

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

Recommendation 3:  Improve controls over Forms 13615 to ensure that all Forms are signed and dated by volunteers before they begin working at the Volunteer Program sites and that the Forms are certified and dated by the IRS or partner.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The SPEC function will strengthen its guidance and monitoring practices to ensure that all Forms 13615 are signed and dated by volunteers before they begin working at the Volunteer Program sites and that the Forms are certified and dated by the IRS or partner.

Recommendation 4:  Develop a process to ensure all volunteers, not just those preparing tax returns, are following the guidance focusing on the integrity of the Volunteer Program and the security of taxpayer information.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The Quality Site Requirements directs all volunteers, not just those preparing tax returns, to sign Form 13615.  The IRS is strengthening this process for the 2012 Filing Season by including a mandatory training course and certification test that is required by all volunteers prior to working at a Volunteer Program site.

Recommendation 5:  Revise Form 13614-C and the 1-877-330-1205 scripts to:  1) advise taxpayers who are calling to inquire about their tax refunds how to obtain refund information using either the toll-free telephone line or IRS.gov, and 2) inform callers that their information is confidential and although not required, leaving identifying information would allow the IRS to contact the taxpayer and/or follow up with him or her if more information is necessary.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  Since this was the first year for the toll-free telephone line, the IRS identified several opportunities for improvement.  The IRS revised the script early in the 2011 Filing Season to advise taxpayers of the process to inquire about their refund status.  For Fiscal Year 2012, the IRS has already revised Form 13614-C to include “Where’s My Refund?” information.  The IRS plans to revise the toll-free telephone line script for Fiscal Year 2012 to inform callers that their information is confidential.

Recommendation 6:  Review the IRS fraud hotline procedures and guidelines to determine best practices that can be used to improve the Volunteer Program referral process.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The SPEC function will collaborate with Criminal Investigation to determine best practices that can be used to improve their internal and external program referral process.

Recommendation 7:  Ensure contacts received on the 1-877-330-1205 or WI.Voltax@irs.gov are assigned control numbers so they can be effectively controlled and tracked.  This will help ensure the feedback provided by the taxpayers is used to improve the Volunteer Program.

Management’s Response:  IRS management agreed with this recommendation.  The IRS has designed a numerical control number for the 2012 Filing Season to better track and control contacts through its internal and external referral processes.

 


Appendix I

 

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

 

Our overall objective was to determine whether taxpayers visiting IRS Volunteer Program sites receive quality service, including accurate tax returns.  IRS data included in various figures were provided for perspective only and were not validated.  To accomplish the objective, we:

I.                   Determined if the Volunteer Program sites were accurately preparing individual income tax returns based on facts provided by the taxpayers.  From a population of 12,326 sites, we selected a judgmental sample of 36 VITA/Co-Located VITA and TCE-AARP sites nationwide and attempted to have a tax return prepared.  Three sites were selected in 12 States.

Site selection was based on audit resources, proximity of sites to major cities, and geographical location of the auditors.  In addition, to expand testing to include sites never tested, we also eliminated most cities and sites selected in prior audits.  We could not select a statistical sample due to the volume of sites and geographical location of the sites that would need to be selected.

II.                Determined the characteristics of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program Sites.  We assessed the reliability of the data by comparing the data to IRS Filing Season data.

III.             Followed up on the IRS’s response to the 2010 Filing Season report’s recommendation to ensure referrals reporting improper activities at Volunteer Program sites are properly documented, investigated, and resolved.

Internal controls methodology

Internal controls relate to management’s plans, methods, and procedures used to meet their mission, goals, and objectives.  Internal controls include the processes and procedures for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling program operations.  They include the systems for measuring, reporting, and monitoring program performance.  We determined the following internal controls were relevant to our audit objective:  the SPEC function’s policies, procedures, and practices for preparing tax returns.  We evaluated controls by interviewing management and reviewing policies and procedures.  We conducted tests at Volunteer Program sites.

 

Appendix II

 

Major Contributors to This Report

 

Michael E. McKenney, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Returns Processing and Account Services)

Augusta R. Cook, Director

Lena Dietles, Audit Manager

Pamela DeSimone, Senior Auditor

Jerry Douglas, Senior Auditor

Tracy Harper, Senior Auditor

Doug Barneck, Auditor

Ed Carr, Auditor

Kathy Coote, Auditor

Nelva Usher, Auditor

Lance Welling, Auditor

 

Appendix III

 

Report Distribution List

 

Commissioner  C

Office of the Commissioner – Attn:  Chief of Staff  C

Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support  OS

Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement  SE

Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Director, Customer Assistance, Relationships, and Education, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAR

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

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

Director, Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CAR:SPEC

Chief Counsel  CC

National Taxpayer Advocate  TA

Chief, Program Evaluation and Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PEI 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 Liaisons: 

Chief, Program Evaluation and Improvement, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:S:PEI

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

 

Appendix IV

 

Cities and States Visited
to Have Tax Returns Prepared

 

Fresno/Merced

California

Orlando/Valrico/Waverly

Florida

Macon

Georgia

Chester/Collinsville/Marion

Illinois

Detroit/Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo

Michigan

Gulfport/Long Beach/Ocean Springs

Mississippi

Albany/Rome/Voorheesville

New York

Clinton/Fayetteville/Maxton

North Carolina

Chattanooga

Tennessee

Austin

Texas

Ogden/Salt Lake City

Utah

Charleston/Nitro/Parkersburg

West Virginia

 

Appendix V

 

Accuracy Rate by Tax Topic

 

Tax Topic

Number of
Tax Returns
Using Tax Topic

Percentage Correct

Additional Child Tax Credit

24

79%

Child and Dependent Care Credit

12

67%

Child Tax Credit

24

79%

Earned Income Tax Credit

24

96%

Educator Expense

12

25%

Exemptions

36

97%

Estimated Tax Penalty

12

83%

Filing Status

36

97%

Health Savings Account

12

50%

Income

36

94%

Interest

24

92%

Making Work Pay Credit

36

97%

Retirement Savings Contribution Credit

12

83%

Schedule C Expenses

12

58%

Self-Employment Tax

12

58%

Standard Deduction

36

97%

Source:  Analysis of tax returns prepared for auditors by volunteers during
the 2011 Filing Season.

.

Appendix VI

 

Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet

 

The Form was removed due to its size.  To see the Form, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page or on the IRS Forms and Publications web site Appendix VII

 

 

Volunteer Agreement Standards of Conduct – VITA/TCE Programs

 

The Form was removed due to its size.  To see the Form, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page or on the IRS Forms and Publications web site Appendix VII

 

 

Appendix VIII

 

General Characteristics of Tax Returns
Prepared by the Volunteer Program
[19]
During Calendar Year 2011

 

Type of Tax Return

Tax Return Volume

Percentage
of Total

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

2,904,624

94.77%

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

89,549

2.92%

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

58,141

1.9%

U.S. Income Tax Return for Certain Nonresident Aliens With No Dependents (Form 1040NR-EZ)

7,794

0.25%

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

3,964

0.13%

U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return (Form 1040NR)

394

0.01%

U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return – Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa (Form 1040-SS)

345

0.01%

U.S. Self-Employment Tax Return – Puerto Rico
(Form 1040-PR)

16

<0.01%

 

Refund Due/
Balance Due

Dollar
Totals

Tax Return Volume

Percentage of Tax
Return Volume

 

Refund Due

$3,924,877,622

2,340,925

76.38%

Balance Due

$445,195,385

459,933

15.01%

Breakeven

$0

263,969

8.61%

 

Filing Status/Dependent Claims

Tax Return Volume

Percentage of Total

Single

1,795,226

58.58%

 

Married Filing Jointly

841,622

27.46%

 

Head of Household

367,781

12%

 

Married Filing Separately and Spouse Is Required to File

58,471

1.91%

 

Widow(er) With Dependent Child

1,613

0.05%

 

Married Filing Separately and Spouse Is Not Required to File

114

<0.01%

 

Tax Return Prepared With One or More Dependent Exemptions, Including Parents

669,840

21.86%

 

Tax Return Prepared With No Dependent Exemptions

2,394,987

78.14%

 

 

Credits Claimed

Tax Return Volume

Dollar
Totals

Earned Income Tax*

683,926

$1,001,382,805

Child Tax*

245,132

$246,336,806

Additional Child Tax*

306,749

$352,706,061

Retirement Savings Contributions*

194,716

$32,670,836

Education

143,622

$104,650,813

Child and Dependent Care*

51,871

$25,348,241

Other (Adoption, Gas, and Health Coverage Tax)

373

$301,565

* = This credit was included in our test scenarios.

Income

Tax Return Volume

Dollar Amounts

Average Income[20]

3,047,316

         $24,076

Other Income[21]

   148,905

$469,401,232

Source:  Our analysis of tax returns prepared at the Volunteer Program sites during
Calendar Year 2011 as of May 19, 2011.

 

Appendix IX

 

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Audit Reports on the Volunteer Tax Return
Preparation Program

 

Improvements Are Needed to Ensure Tax Returns Are Prepared Correctly at Internal Revenue Service Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites (Reference Number 2004-40-154, dated August 31, 2004).

Significant Improvements Have Been Made in the Oversight of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, but Continued Effort Is Needed to Ensure the Accuracy of Services Provided (Reference Number 2006-40-004, dated November 4, 2005).

Oversight and Accuracy of Tax Returns Continue to Be Problems for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (Reference Number 2006-40-125, dated August 31, 2006).

Accuracy of Volunteer Tax Returns Is Improving, but Procedures Are Often Not Followed (Reference Number 2007-40-137, dated August 29, 2007).

Accuracy of Volunteer Tax Returns Continues to Improve, but Better Controls Are Needed to Ensure Consistent Application of Procedures and Processes (Reference Number 2008-40-177, dated September 18, 2008).

Ensuring the Quality Assurance Processes Are Consistently Followed Remains a Significant Challenge for the Volunteer Program (Reference Number 2009-40-128, dated September 15, 2009).

Improvements to the Volunteer Program Are Producing Positive Results, but Further Improvements Are Needed to the Quality Assurance Process (Reference Number 2010-40-109, dated September 3, 2010).

 

Appendix X

 

Management’s Response to the Draft Report

 

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE

ATLANTA. GA 30308

 

 

                     COMMISSIONER

WAGE AND INVESTMENT DIVISION

 

 

August 9, 2011

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR MICHAEL R. PHILLIPS

                                         DEPUTY INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AUDIT

 

FROM:                        for Richard Byrd, Jr. /s/Peggy Bogadi

                                          Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division

 

SUBJECT:                       Draft Audit Report –Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program (Audit # 201140006)

We have reviewed the subject draft report and agree with your recommendations.  We appreciate your acknowledgement of the important role the volunteer programs play in achieving the IRS goal of improving taxpayer service and facilitating participation in the tax system.  We continue to expand our partnerships with non-profit and community organizations to provide vital tax preparation services for low-to-moderate-income and elderly taxpayers.

Volunteer programs have been in operation for more than 40 years and more than 12,000 free tax preparation sites were open nationwide this year.  We are very proud of the accomplishments of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Programs.  The dedication and sacrifices made by the more than 88,000 volunteers working in these programs is commendable.  During this Filing Season, the VITA/TCE volunteers assisted nearly 3.2 million taxpayers by preparing their Federal and State tax returns, and achieved a quality accuracy rate of 87percent, based on our Quality Statistical Sample (QSS) reviews.  We continue to enhance the process used in the VITA and TCE programs in order to improve the quality of volunteer-prepared returns, and have committed significant resources in support of this effort.

We are pleased your report acknowledges the IRS has implemented an extensive quality review program and a process to help ensure that willful acts of fraud do not occur at VITA/TCE sites. Ensuring quality in the work performed at VITA/TCE sites is of utmost importance to the IRS and we have already put a number of improvements in place for the next filing season.  While a very small number, the IRS was deeply trouble by the handful of cases of unscrupulous behavior by volunteers.  As your report recognizes, the IRS took immediate action as soon as we became aware of this behavior and have put in place additional controls to prevent similar cases in the future.

Your report indicates accuracy rates for tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors sharply decreased this year.  While we recognize that this is a serious issue and we are making changes accordingly, it is important to note that the scenarios developed for the reviews are not representative of the typical scenarios seen in the VITA/TCE population.  For example, one scenario involved a taxpayer with a small business, which required including a Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship), with the return.  Consequently, 12 of 36 cases (33 percent) involved a small business.  However, during the 2011 Filing Season, only 4.1 percent of all returns prepared at VITA/TCE sites included income reported on a Schedule C.  Nevertheless, we are taking steps to ensure that volunteers prepare all returns accurately.

The Wage and Investment Division’s Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (SPEC) function is charged with conducting quality reviews that provide a statistically valid estimate of the quality of service provided nationwide in VITA/TCE sites.  To date, the QSS quality reviews produce the only accurate measure that meets this requirement.  Our 87 percent accuracy measure for this year has a 2.4 percent probability rate, with a 90 percent confidence level.

Attached are our responses to your recommendations. If you have any questions, please contact me, or a member of your staff may contact Michael Beebe, Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division at (404) 338-75933.

Attachment

 

Attachment

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

RECOMMENDATION 1:

Evaluate the QSS Review process to ensure it is the best use of resources and provides the best representation of the accuracy rate of the Volunteer Program.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation.  The Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication (SPEC) function worked closely with the Statistics of Income Office to create an efficient process to produce a statistically valid estimate of the quality of service provided by the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) sites.  To date, the Quality Statistical Sample (QSS) review is the only measure that meets this requirement.

Implementation Date:

Implemented

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

Not applicable

RECOMMENDATION 2:  

Include anonymous shopping visits as part of the quality review process.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation.  The SPEC function has plans to conduct anonymous shopping visits during the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Filing Season.

Implementation Date:

February 15, 2012

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.

The Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, should:

RECOMMENDATION 3:

Improve controls over Forms 13615 to ensure all Forms are signed and dated by volunteers before they begin working at the Volunteer Program sites and that the Forms are certified and dated by the IRS or partner.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation.  The SPEC function will strengthen its guidance and monitoring practices to ensure that all Forms 13615, Volunteer Standards of Conduct, are signed and dated by volunteers before they begin working at the Volunteer Program sites, and that the Forms are certified and dated by t he IRS or partner.

Implementation Date:

February 15, 2012

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.

RECOMMENDATION 4:

Develop a process to ensure all volunteers, not just those preparing tax returns, are following the guidance focusing on the integrity of the Volunteer Program and the security of taxpayer information.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation.  Our Quality Site Requirements directs all volunteers, not just those preparing returns, to sign Form 13615.  We are strengthening this process for the FY 2012 Filing Season by including a mandatory training course and certification test that is required by all volunteers prior to working at the VITA/TCE site.

Implementation Date:

December 15, 2011

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.

RECOMMENDATION 5:

Revise Form 13614-C and the 1-877-330-1205 scripts to:  1) advise taxpayers who are calling to inquire about their tax refunds how to obtain refund information using either the toll-free telephone line or IRS.gov; and 2) inform callers that their information is confidential and although not required, leaving identifying information would allow the IRS to contact the taxpayer and/or follow up with him or her if more information is necessary.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation.  Since this was the first year for the VolTax line (i.e., (877) 330-1205), we identified several opportunities for improvement.  We revised the script early in the FY 2011 Filing Season, to advise taxpayers of the process to inquire about their refund status.  For FY 2012, we have already revised Form 13614-C, Intake/Interview and Quality Review Sheet, to include Where’s my refund? information.  We plan to revise the VolTax line script for, FY 2012, to inform callers that their information is confidential.

Implementation Date:

January 15, 2012

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.

RECOMMENDATION 6:

Review the IRS fraud hotline procedures and guidelines to determine best practices that can be used to improve the Volunteer Program referral process.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation. The SPEC function will collaborate with the Criminal Investigation Division to determine best practices that can be used to improve our internal and external volunteer program referral process.

Implementation Date:

January 15, 2012

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.

RECOMMENDATION 7:

Ensure contacts received on the 1-877-330-1205 or the WI.VolTax@IRS.gov are assigned control numbers so that they can be effectively controlled and tracked.  This will help ensure the feedback provided by the taxpayers is used to improve the Volunteer Program.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:

We agree with this recommendation. We have designed a numerical control number for the FY 2012 Filing Season to better track and control contacts received through our internal and external referral processes.

Implementation Date:

January 15, 2012

Responsible Official:

Director, SPEC, Wage and Investment Division

Corrective Action Monitoring Plan

We will monitor this corrective action as part of our internal management control system.



[1] Includes the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly Programs. 

[2] See Appendix IX for a list of these prior reports.

[3] Eight community-based Volunteer Program sites are located in buildings occupied by one or more IRS offices.

[4] Pub. L. No. 91-172, 83 Stat. 487 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 26 U.S.C. and 42 U.S.C.).

[5] Pub. L. No. 95-600, 92 Stat. 2810.

[6] A sponsor would be an entity similar to the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons).

[7] This does not include tax returns prepared in a volunteer site without the program type (VITA, TCE, or Military) being identified.

[8] See Appendix VIII for tables showing the general characteristics of tax returns prepared by the Volunteer Program.

[9] Instead of what should have been a balance due, 2 taxpayers received a tax refund of $401 each.

[10] See Appendix V for a list of tax topics used in the scenarios and the accuracy rate for each topic.

[11] See Appendix VI for a copy of Form 13614-C.

[12] Web conference transmitted over the Internet.

[13] The SPEC function is divided geographically into 4 Area Offices and 37 Territory Offices.  An Area Office is a geographic organization level used by IRS business units and offices to help their specific types of taxpayers understand and comply with tax laws and issues.  A Territory Office handles implementation of outreach and education efforts.  Directors oversee the Area Offices and managers oversee the Territory Offices.

[14] As of May 17, 2011.

[15] Accuracy of Volunteer Tax Returns Continues to Improve, but Better Controls Are Needed to Ensure Consistent Application of Procedures and Processes (Reference Number 2008-40-177, dated September 18, 2008).

[16] A volunteer who provides coordination, organization, and supervision for all aspects of volunteer tax program site locations, from the establishment of site(s) in the community to overseeing the site(s) operation during the filing season.

[17] **********3(d)******************************************************************************************************. 

[18] Volunteers, taxpayers, or anyone else visiting a Volunteer Program site can use the email address and toll-free telephone number to report inappropriate activity.

[19] The IRS Volunteer Program includes the VITA and TCE Programs.

[20] Average Income was determined using computer software to calculate the average total income of all taxpayers.

[21] Other Income is a line item on the Form 1040 series tax returns that is not reported on any tax schedules or anywhere else on the tax returns.