Calls to the Internal Revenue Service’s toll-free phone lines for tax help may exceed the agency’s projections this tax season.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration acknowledged in a report that the IRS has increased the number of employees available to process taxpayer calls during the 2010 filing season, and provided callers with the option to connect with IRS employees who have been trained to answer questions about the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Nevertheless, only two out of three taxpayers who call the numbers are expected to be able to reach a human being this tax season, and all callers will face longer waits before their calls are answered. The IRS’s goal is for 71.2 percent of taxpayers who call the toll-free assistance lines to be able to reach a live human being within 11.6 minutes. In 2009, taxpayers waited an average 8.8 minutes before their calls were answered.

“Based on our audit work during the last two filing seasons, we believe the IRS’s performance measures for 2010 are achievable if the agency completes all of its preparations for the current filing season,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “Those preparations include increasing the number of assistors available during the fiscal year, establishing six applications to handle Recovery Act call volume, and developing a Web-based application for certain taxpayers. Delays to any of those initiatives would pose significant risk for delivering a successful filing season.”

If the expected telephone assistors are not hired and trained before the filing season, taxpayer access would be lower and wait times would be longer for those waiting to speak with an assistor, TIGTA warned. Also, if Web-based and telephone applications for the Electronic Filing Personal Identification Number are not completed on time, taxpayers will need to call the IRS or visit a taxpayer assistance center. The IRS received almost 5 million prior-year adjusted gross income calls in the 2009 filing season. Customer service would be significantly affected if the volume of these calls is the same or more during the 2010 filing season.

In response to a draft of the report, the IRS noted that it has hired and trained additional employees to staff the customer assistance phones and has taken other actions to prepare for the 2010 filing season, including establishing six applications to handle Recovery Act call volume; and developing a Web-based application for taxpayers who do not have their prior-year adjusted gross income or Personal Identification Number. 

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