The Internal Revenue Service does not yet have enough information to determine whether its self-assistance and virtual services are providing efficient and effective customer service to taxpayers.
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A report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that each year, millions of taxpayers turn to the IRS for help in preparing their tax returns. The IRS is testing strategic initiatives to examine the feasibility of facilitated self-assistance and video conferencing technology as alternative service delivery options for taxpayers who seek traditional face-to-face contacts at Taxpayer Assistance Centers and volunteer sites.
TIGTA conducted the audit to determine the effectiveness of the IRS’s efforts to expand taxpayer assistance using such technologies.
TIGTA found that the IRS has not yet established goals and measures for its initiatives to gauge their success, including data to determine if any or all are cost effective. In addition, TIGTA had difficulty contacting or locating volunteer program sites that offered facilitated self-assistance or virtual services.
“Taxpayers have different preferences and service requirements,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “The IRS’s challenge is to meet taxpayer needs and determine how to provide the best services with its limited resources."
TIGTA recommended that the IRS develop sufficient measures (including a customer satisfaction survey) and goals for the facilitated self-assistance initiative; develop goals and measures for the virtual services initiative in the volunteer program sites to ensure it is meeting expectations (after establishing a baseline); emphasize to employees and volunteers the need to consistently offer taxpayers the options of using facilitated self-assistance when available; and accurately publicize these alternative service options on IRS.gov.
IRS management agreed with three of the four recommendations and plans to take actions to improve its efforts to expand and monitor taxpayer assistance using self-assistance and virtual technology service options. IRS management partially agreed with the other recommendation, but said that usage is a better measure than a customer satisfaction survey for the facilitated self-assistance initiative.
“During the 2012 filing season, a FSA site list was posted on IRS.gov and a comprehensive communication and outreach strategy was executed,” wrote Peggy Bogadi, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, in response to the report. "Actions under the strategy included dissemination of print materials, such as fliers, to partners touting the benefits of assisted self-preparation. Social media tools, including tweets and widgets, were used to distribute information about FSA. We also emphasized to volunteers the need to offer taxpayers visiting a participating site the option of using FSA. They will continue to emphasize this option during the 2013 filing season. We have also updated information posted on IRS.gov about services available at the TACs.”