The Government Accountability Office says that the Taxpayer Advocate Service needs to be collecting better data on the type of cases it handles, as well as how those cases are actually being handled.The office was originally asked to examine why the advocate service has experienced an increased caseload since 2004, how well the service has conducted its activities in terms of measures such as customer satisfaction and quality, and finally, how well the service measures and reports its advocacy efforts.

The advocate service was created by Congress to assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the IRS and to propose changes to the agency’s practices to lessen problems affecting taxpayers in general.

During the 2006 fiscal year the advocate service received about 244,000 cases. After decreasing in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 fiscal years, the service’s case receipts increased 43 percent over the following two years. Year-over-year case receipts increased by 17 percent in fiscal year 2005, and another 23 percent in 2006.

According to the GAO, while the number of individual taxpayer cases opened by the advocate service increased substantially during 2005 and 2006, those increases correlated with increases in IRS enforcement activities both overall, and in conjunction with specific IRS enforcement programs.

And while the GAO did not have data to test one possible explanation, the office said that while earlier this decade, the advocate service was clearing out a backlog of problems from the late 1990s, as well as juggling new problems arising from the major reorganization of the IRS, in more recent years there hasn’t been similar trends to balance out increases in reported cases.

While the advocate service said that it is working to develop the means to capture time spent on resolving cases (the key component of unit cost), as well as ways to account for case complexity. The GAO said in addition to creating better performance measures, the service should also do a better job determining what actions are being taken to address the systemic issues the service outlines every year in its annual report to Congress.

The full report is available online, at www.gao.gov/new.items/d07156.pdf.

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