Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
May 14, 2009
Contact: Robert Sperling
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should improve customer service at its 401 Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) by posting waiting times on www.IRS.gov, and offering online appointment scheduling for taxpayers seeking tax return preparation assistance, concludes a new report publicly released today by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
Nearly 7 million taxpayers visited TACs in 2008 to obtain face-to-face assistance from the IRS, such as interpreting tax laws and regulations, preparing certain individual tax returns, resolving inquiries on taxpayer accounts, and accepting payments. In 2008, 18 percent of taxpayers visiting TACs waited more than 30 minutes for service and approximately 500,000 taxpayers visited the TACs to obtain tax return preparation assistance, according to TIGTA's report. Some taxpayers were able to receive same day appointments, but most were required to return for appointments to prepare their tax returns.
In response to TIGTA audits over the past three years, the IRS has developed and implemented three different information systems to capture the number of taxpayers and the primary service provided to each. TIGTA found that taxpayers typically receive multiple services, which are not recorded. While these systems have increased the availability of data needed to make management decisions, train employees, and reduce taxpayer burden, more could be done, TIGTA concluded in its new report.
Most significantly, the IRS needs to track all the services provided to each taxpayer visiting a TAC, the report concluded. Despite agreeing to a 2006 TIGTA recommendation to count all services provided to taxpayers visiting TACs, IRS assistors continue to count one service for each taxpayer assisted - the one in which the assistor spends the most time. The remaining services are not captured. The IRS acknowledges that most taxpayers who visit the TACs are provided more than one service.
"Without knowing the actual number and types of services provided, the IRS lacks the data to make informed management decisions about how the Taxpayer Assistance Centers can best serve taxpayers," commented J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
The report also recommended that the IRS adopt some of the customer service practices used by state motor vehicle agencies, such as posting waiting times for TACs on www.IRS.gov, offering online appointment scheduling for taxpayers seeking tax return preparation services and using screen monitors at TACs to educate and inform taxpayers during their wait.
"To its credit, the IRS has successfully implemented 93 percent of the corrective actions recommended by TIGTA in previous reports," George said. "Going the next step and determining precisely the number and scope of services provided at TACs will allow the IRS to determine where to focus its resources so that it can better plan to consistently deliver high-quality services to taxpayers."
TIGTA recommended that the IRS: identify multiple services provided to taxpayers; use existing system data to identify opportunities for improving taxpayer services; ensure that internal controls are reinforced, and provide wait times and appointment scheduling capabilities on www.IRS.gov. The IRS partially concurred with TIGTA's recommendations, but said it wasn't feasible or cost-efficient to schedule on-line appointments and provide wait time estimates.
To view the full report, including the scope, methodology and the IRS's response to a draft of the report, visit www.tigta.gov.
Created by Congress in 1998, TIGTA's mission is to provide independent oversight of the IRS and protect its ability to timely and efficiently collect Federal taxes.
Since December 2004, TIGTA has issued 10 reports on the TAC program. Recent reports include:
Management information is not sufficient to determine the effectiveness of the TAC Program. The lack of accurate and complete management information hinders the IRS' ability to make appropriate decisions when determining the locations and services it provides taxpayers seeking face-to-face assistance. Improved management information is needed to help the Field Assistance Office move toward its future goals. (Reference Number 2005-40-110, dated July 22,2005).
The Field Assistance Office management information system does not provide timely, accurate workload performance information. In addition, the Field Assistance Office current management information system does not collect the total number of services provided to taxpayers; it captures only the most significant service provided to each taxpayer. (Reference Number 2006-40-061, dated March 22, 2006).
Key management information used to make decisions and support Program changes continues to be either absent or based on inaccurate/incomplete data. This hinders the IRS' ability to make appropriate decisions when determining TAC locations and the services they provide taxpayers seeking face-to-face assistance and has delayed the IRS in making any decisions on the TAC Geographic Footprint, which is an important initiative within the Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint. (Reference Number 2008-40-118, dated May 16, 2008).
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