Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Office of Audit
THERE WERE SIGNIFICANT LIMITATIONS IN PHASE 1 OF THE FACILITATED SELF-ASSISTANCE RESEARCH PROJECT
Issued on March 10, 2009
Highlights of Report Number: 2009-40-047 to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner for Wage and Investment Division.
IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS
Self-Assistance Research Project (FSRP) provides taxpayers the opportunity,
with assistance from a
WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT
The FSRP is the first IRS initiative resulting from the Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint, the IRS’ 5-year strategy to improve taxpayer service.
WHAT TIGTA FOUND
In September 2008, the IRS reported that inconsistent data collection, a small sample size, and low survey response rates during the FSRP imposed serious limitations on the data collected. Nevertheless, the FSRP was expanded to an additional 35 Taxpayer Assistance Centers for the 2009 Filing Season before the IRS ensured that all limitations were addressed.
The FSRP includes five surveys. Revising or eliminating surveys could help
improve participation. Additionally, although one of the ultimate
goals of the FSRP is to provide self-assistance and eliminate the need for
contact with an IRS employee, funding does not include printers for each self-assistance
computer terminal. Instead, FSRP
participants are required to see an IRS employee to obtain printed copies of
any documents they print from the terminals, which could be forms or their tax
returns. Finally, self-assistance
computer terminals are offered only at times when
The IRS did not conduct additional analysis to determine whether service tasks should remain the same. Further, there was no support to show why access to all of IRS.gov is not offered in the FSRP. Without sufficient support for the methodologies used in the FSRP, the IRS cannot appropriately analyze the results and establish performance measures.
WHAT TIGTA RECOMMENDED
TIGTA recommended that the Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division, 1) not expand the FSRP before all data collection issues have been corrected and sufficient data are collected, 2) revise and/or eliminate surveys to reduce burden and encourage participation, 3) conduct a cost analysis of either providing a printer dedicated to each FSRP terminal or using a facilitator who can quickly provide printed materials to taxpayers, 4) ensure all decisions and processes are documented and are properly managed and maintained, 5) consider expanding the criteria for participation in the FSRP to all activities on IRS.gov, and 6) conduct testing at a number of Taxpayer Assistance Centers to determine the feasibility and benefit of providing the terminals for taxpayers’ use at all times.
The IRS agreed with three recommendations, disagreed with two recommendations, and partially agreed with one recommendation. The IRS plans to revise the surveys to reduce taxpayer burden and to encourage participation, to maintain all decisions and processes on an electronic document-management platform, to consider the analysis of IRS.gov data and compare this to the services provided by the Taxpayer Assistance Centers. The IRS stated that a cost analysis of providing a facilitator has been conducted but that cost and security issues prevent placement of additional printers.
IRS officials did not agree to delay expanding the FSRP because funding for additional Taxpayer Assistance Centers had already been granted and implementation had been completed. Officials also did not agree to conduct testing to determine the benefit of providing the FSRP terminals for taxpayers’ use at all times.
TIGTA maintains that because the data collection was not successful with the original 15 Taxpayer Assistance Centers, the IRS should not have expanded the project. Also, the research phase is the opportune time to test different methods, such as making a terminal available for taxpayers at all times.
READ THE FULL REPORT
To view the report, including the scope, methodology, and full IRS response, go to:
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone Number: 202-622-6500
Web Site: http://www.tigta.gov