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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

Press Release

March 12, 2009
Contact: Robert Sperling
(202) 622-6500

TIGTA Releases Report on the IRS's Facilitated Self-Assistance Research Project

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) today publicly released its review of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Facilitated Self-Assistance Research Project. As part of the IRS's Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint strategy to improve customer service, the IRS is trying to reduce waiting times at Taxpayer Assistance Centers by providing limited access to the IRS's website and toll-free assistance lines to taxpayers waiting in line.

During tests at 15 centers in eight States during the 2008 Filing Season, the IRS allowed eligible taxpayers to use their computers and telephones. The IRS increased this service by 35 sites for the current filing season.

Because of a lack of sufficient and reliable data, TIGTA could not determine whether offering taxpayers a self-assistance option to waiting in line would improve customer service and reduce taxpayer waiting times.

While posing as taxpayers during visits to centers providing self-assistance, TIGTA auditors found that taxpayers seeking to use the IRS's computers and phones had to answer a series of questions regarding the type of service requested and provide demographic information (such as age, income level, gender and zip code). Taxpayers were required to see an IRS employee to obtain printed copies of any forms or documents they printed from the computers. The self-assistance services were available only when IRS employees were allowed to screen taxpayers.

"While providing taxpayers the option to reduce waiting times by using IRS computers and phones appears to be a viable option for improving customer service, expanding self-assistance services without sufficient research and evaluation could result in taxpayer frustration instead of customer satisfaction," commented J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS delay expanding the research project until additional research is done; reduce the number of questions taxpayers are asked as a precondition to using the self-service option; consider making printers available for taxpayers to print copies of forms and return information; and explore the feasibility and benefit of providing the terminals for taxpayers' use at all times.

The IRS agreed to improve its research process, reduce the number of questions it asks taxpayers prior to letting them access computers and telephones, and use IRS employees to quickly provide printed materials to taxpayers. The IRS did not concur with TIGTA's recommendations to expand the number of activities taxpayers could perform on the computers or to let taxpayers use the computers at all times.

To view the report, including the scope, methodology, and full IRS response, go to: http://www.treas.gov/tigta/auditreports/2009reports/200940047fr.html


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