TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL
FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION
MANAGEMENT ADVISORY REPORT: COMPARISON OF RESPONSES TO SMALL BUSINESS/SELF EMPLOYED TAXPAYER QUESTIONS FROM THE ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE PROGRAM AND OTHER INTERNET TAX LAW SERVICES
Reference No. 2000-30-126
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses the Electronic Tax Law Assistance (ETLA) program to answer tax law and procedural questions submitted by taxpayers on the IRSí Internet web site known as the Digital Daily. In Fiscal Year (FY) 1999, the ETLA program answered over 262,000 tax law questions, with nearly 350,000 projected for FY 2000. The overall objective of this review was to provide the Customer Service function with a qualitative comparison of responses to Small Business/Self-Employed tax law questions answered by the IRS and commercial Internet web sites that offer free tax advice.
To avoid having any effect on the ETLA program and commercial web sites during the filing season, we limited the number of questions introduced into the systems. Consequently, the results are not statistically valid. However, we believe our sample of 50 questions is sufficient to provide insight into the service the IRS provided to Small Business/Self-Employed taxpayers.
The IRS responded correctly to 54 percent of the Small Business/Self-Employed questions we submitted through the Digital Daily. The commercial web sites that offered free tax advice provided correct answers 47 percent of the time. Further, the accuracy rate of the Customer Service Representatives answering these questions was 57 percent, while that of the Compliance function employees was 53 percent. Finally, our analysis of response times showed that the commercial web sites provided responses faster than the IRS. However, customer satisfaction surveys show that over 90 percent of the taxpayers who used the ETLA program were satisfied with the IRSí response times.
Overall Accuracy of Responses
Only 27 (54 percent) of the 50 questions submitted to the IRS were answered correctly. The commercial web sitesí accuracy rates were lower than the IRS rate with only 32 (47 percent) of the 68 questions answered correctly. We observed that the IRSí responses varied from being extremely brief to very lengthy, and from very basic to somewhat technical, while the commercial web sitesí answers were fairly brief and to the point.
Customer Service Representative and Compliance Function Employee Accuracy Rates
We submitted 50 questions through the IRSí Digital Daily. The Customer Service Representatives answered 7 (14 percent) of the 50 questions, with an accuracy rate of 57 percent. The Compliance function employees answered the other 43 (86 percent) questions, with an accuracy rate of 53 percent.
Timeliness of Responses
All responses received from the Internet web sites were answered within 4 days. We received responses to our questions on the same day or the following day for 81 percent of the questions (IRS, 62 percent and commercial web sites, 93 percent). The IRS achieved its goal of responding to taxpayer questions within 2 days for 35 (90 percent) of 39 responses for which we could identify both the dates and where the questions were submitted and answered.