Friday, January 15, 2016
Government Accountability Office, Deteriorating Taxpayer Service Underscores Need for a Comprehensive Strategy and Process Efficiencies (GAO-16-151) (Jan 14, 2016):
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provided the lowest level of telephone service during fiscal year 2015 compared to prior years, with only 38 percent of callers who wanted to speak with an IRS assistor able to reach one. This lower level of service occurred despite lower demand from callers seeking live assistance, which has fallen by 6 percent since 2010 to about 51 million callers in 2015. Over the same period, average wait times have almost tripled to over 30 minutes. IRS also struggled to answer correspondence in a timely manner and assistors increasingly either failed to send required correspondence to taxpayers or included inaccurate information in correspondence sent. IRS has taken steps to remind assistors to send correspondence, but does not have adequate controls to ensure that they send accurate correspondence before closing cases. GAO also found that the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) does not include correspondence performance goals in its performance plan, and therefore, does not have a complete set of measures to assess performance. The decline in service has coincided with a 10 percent reduction in IRS's annual appropriations, as well as resource allocation decisions by IRS to meet statutory responsibilities, such as implementing tax law changes and supporting information technology infrastructure.
More importantly, GAO found that Treasury and IRS have neither developed nor have any plans to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy to define appropriate service levels and benchmark to the best in business or customer expectations as GAO has previously recommended. Without such a strategy, Treasury and IRS can neither measure nor effectively communicate to Congress the types and levels of customer service taxpayers should expect, and the resources needed to reach those levels. Similarly, while IRS officials and stakeholders reported few problems with processing individual tax returns, GAO identified some inefficiencies related to tax processing, such as premature correspondence with taxpayers and inadequate training for frontline staff. These inefficiencies warrant further evaluation to determine if additional improvements are needed.