TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL
FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION
IMPROVEMENTS CAN BE MADE IN PROVIDING ASSISTANCE TO TAXPAYERS
Reference No. 199940065
The Internal Revenue Serviceís (IRS) toll-free automated telephone tax and refund information system (i.e., TeleTax) and Internet web site provide accurate information to taxpayers on key Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-34) provisions. However, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) needs to ensure that telephone assistors are adequately prepared to answer current year tax planning questions and that responses to taxpayer electronic mail (e-mail) questions are complete, concise, and clear.
This review was initiated as part of our coverage of the implementation of key legislation and National Performance Review recommendations affecting the 1999 filing season. The primary objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of the IRSí Customer Service Function to ensure employees were prepared to assist individual taxpayers with Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 tax law questions. We assessed the IRSí TeleTax, Internet web site, toll-free telephone number, and e-mail activities.
The Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) needs to address the following issues.
Telephone assistors were not adequately prepared to answer current year tax planning questions.
Reference and training materials used by assistors to answer taxpayer questions were generally found to be inadequate. As a result, assistors incorrectly answered 34 percent of the Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and 56 percent of the Credits for Higher Education test questions we asked them. The following data from the IRSí Office of Statistics of Income puts these results into perspective. For Tax Year 1996, over 10.3 million tax returns showed either a taxable IRA distribution or payments made to an IRA. These returns represent 8.6 percent of the total population of individual tax returns filed for that tax year. In addition, the Department of Education estimated that 10.3 million students attended college full-time in 1996.
Answers to taxpayer electronic mail questions were not always complete, concise, or clear.
Forty-four percent of assistor e-mail responses we reviewed either contained too much or not enough information, or did not adequately address the taxpayerís question. The IRS performed an analysis of taxpayer e-mail Customer Satisfaction Survey comments received between March and September 1998, and found that 21 percent of the taxpayer comments were not positive. To validate this analysis, we reviewed all the taxpayer survey comments submitted in October 1998, and found that 27 percent could be construed as negative.
Summary of Recommendations
The IRS could further its goals of improving the treatment of taxpayers by ensuring prompt distribution of new tax law material to telephone assistors and by establishing a process that ensures all telephone assistors are adequately trained. In addition, the IRS needs to establish uniform program policies and procedures that will ensure quality responses to taxpayer e-mail questions. Taxpayers with negative Customer Satisfaction Survey comments should be afforded the option of a follow-up contact by an assistor to correct any unresolved problems.
Managementís Response: The IRSí Customer Service Function will implement a certification process to ensure assistors receive all the required training. This training will be tracked and monitored on the Administrative Corporate Education System. In addition, any new legislation affecting the Customer Service Function, not contained in the annual Technical Probe and Response Guide, will be provided to the telephone assistors as a Taxpayer Electronic Bulletin Board System alert until a new guide is available.
The IRSí Customer Service Function will also update the Internal Revenue Manual and the Customer Service Managerís Handbook to establish uniform program policies and procedures, which should ensure the quality of responses to taxpayer e-mail questions. Taxpayers completing the Customer Satisfaction Survey that have follow-up or new tax law questions will be directed to the Tax Law Questions web page or the IRSí toll-free telephone number.