TREASURY INSPECTOR GENERAL
FOR TAX ADMINISTRATION
WALK-IN INITIATIVES FOR THE 1999 FILING SEASON IMPROVED CUSTOMER SERVICE TO TAXPAYERS
Reference No. 2000-40-032
This audit was initiated as part of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administrationís coverage to evaluate the 1999 filing season and to support efforts of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in reinventing customer service as recommended by the National Performance Review. The primary objective of the audit was to evaluate the Customer Service functionís efforts to provide taxpayers with consistent and improved face-to-face service. We assessed availability of tax forms and publications, IRS preparation of tax returns, training for new and temporary walk-in employees, and use of alternative walk-in sites.
For the 1999 filing season, the IRS began to focus on improving the level of customer service at its walk-in sites. To accomplish this goal, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) required each walk-in site to implement several key initiatives. These initiatives included standardizing tax forms and publications distribution, providing tax return preparation, ensuring proper training for walk-in employees, and encouraging the use of shopping malls and community centers as alternative sites to assist taxpayers. Emphasis from the IRS Commissioner and senior management promoted the commitment of necessary resources to the walk-in program. Even though the IRS was able to provide an improved level of face-to-face service in over six million walk-in taxpayer contacts during the 1999 filing season, it does not have an effective process in place to monitor the delivery of future walk-in program expectations on a national basis.
The Internal Revenue Service Provided Tax Forms and Publications to Taxpayers at Offices Nationwide
During the 1999 filing season, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) required each walk-in site to stock a standardized inventory of common printed tax forms and publications for taxpayer use. From our visitations to 26 walk-in sites, we determined that all of them maintained the required tax forms and publications. In addition, each walk-in site had electronic versions of current and prior year tax forms and publications that could be printed upon request. While most IRS offices without walk-in services were not required to provide tax forms or publications to taxpayers, many indicated that they chose to do so as a way of improving customer service. We contacted 22 IRS offices without walk-in services and found that 20 provided some of the more common tax forms and publications to taxpayers.
The Internal Revenue Service Offered Tax Return Preparation to Taxpayers at Its Walk-In Offices
For the 1999 filing season, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) mandated that all walk-in sites offer tax return preparation to those taxpayers requesting it. Although tax returns were being prepared in the 26 sites we visited, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) did not establish a process to ensure that all walk-in sites prepared tax returns. Even though tax return preparation data was collected by the walk-in site on the Resource Management Information System, it was not used to monitor individual site compliance with the tax return preparation key initiative. If this information had been used, it would have allowed the Customer Service function to identify any walk-in sites that did not offer tax return preparation.
The Internal Revenue Service Provided Employees Enhanced Training to Improve the Quality of Walk-In Services
In preparation for the filing season, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) required that enhanced training be given to all IRS employees assigned walk-in duties. Even though these employees had received the required or comparable training for the filing season, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) did not establish a process to monitor the delivery of current and future training requirements for new and temporary walk-in employees on a national basis.
The Internal Revenue Service Used Shopping Malls and Community Centers as Alternative Sites to Provide More Convenient Customer Service to Taxpayers
In an effort to improve customer service and increase taxpayer access, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) encouraged districts to establish temporary walk-in sites at local shopping malls and community centers. Even though most districts used these alternative sites, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) did not provide specific guidelines or best practices for establishing them. Districts developed their own alternative sites without any coordination or oversight. As a result, the Customer Service function was not able to determine the extent of alternative site usage during the filing season.
The Internal Revenue Service Needs an Effective Process to Monitor the Implementation and Delivery of Key Initiatives
For the 1999 filing season, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) issued the Fiscal Year 1999 Walk-In Program Letter as guidance on providing taxpayers with "world class customer service" at IRS walk-in sites. Although the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) established these key initiatives for the filing season, an effective process to monitor and assure their implementation was not established. The IRS Commissionerís emphasis and the support of senior management may have positively impacted the delivery of these key initiatives. However, to ensure continued delivery, an effective mechanism should be established to monitor their implementation.
Summary of Recommendation
To support the IRSí vision of providing improved customer service to taxpayers and to ensure the future success of the walk-in program, the Assistant Commissioner (Customer Service) should develop a process to monitor the implementation and delivery of current and future key initiatives.
Managementís Response: IRS management did not provide their response within the 30-day draft issuance period. As a result, managementís corrective actions were not available at the time this report was finalized.