The Internal Revenue Service needs a long-term strategy to improve the interactive services it offers online, according to a new government report.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, found that the IRS’s existing online services are limited, compared to many other government and private sector organizations. Static web pages make up the majority of IRS.gov, the GAO noted.  While the report acknowledges that the IRS highlights 18 basic interactive tools on its home page, the IRS does not offer dynamic account access to taxpayers. “Other federal and state taxing authorities provide a broader range of online services to their customers, including interactive account access,” said the report.

U.S. taxpayers visited the IRS's Web site over 375 million times last year. IRS officials noted there are over 110,000 Web pages and downloadable documents, plus some basic interactive tools, such as calculators, on IRS.gov.

In an earlier report in December 2011, the GAO reported that taxpayers benefit from the increased Web services, and the IRS could realize substantial savings by transferring taxpayers away from costly telephone interactions. To improve its Web site since that report, the IRS has been simultaneously focusing on multiple short-term projects to deliver new basic interactive tools and longer-term efforts to invest in foundational infrastructure, such as security. But the IRS still lacks a long-term strategy for enhancing its Web site that explains how its ongoing and new efforts fit together, the GAO said in a report released Tuesday.

No overall cost estimate exists and there are not enough details on goals, deliverables, future online services, and timeframes to be able to assess progress, the GAO noted. Several fundamental elements for a Web site strategy, as described on http://www.Howto.gov and in other guidance, are missing. Among other problems, the IRS is not using leading practices learned to help formulate a long-term strategy; setting a measureable taxpayer satisfaction goal to help ensure taxpayers' needs are being met; prioritizing the development of new online services based on business cases that outline the benefits and costs; and linking investments in security to a long term plan, said the GAO

While the IRS's efforts to date have already benefited taxpayers and hold the promise of additional benefits in the future, the report acknowledged, a long-term strategy could help managers have a common understanding of the IRS's plans, and better help Congress understand what it is being asked to fund, while holding the IRS accountable for progress.

The GAO recommended that IRS develop a long-term strategic plan for its Web services that includes, among other things, studies of leading practices at a strategic level; a measurable goal for taxpayer satisfaction; business cases for new online services that describe the potential benefits and costs and prioritized projects; and links to investments in security.

The IRS agreed with two of the GAO recommendations but did not state whether it agreed or disagreed on two others, and partially agreed with developing business cases because it believes other criteria should be considered. GAO believes this recommendation remains valid as discussed in this report.

In response to the report, IRS Acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller pointed to recent improvements in IRS.gov, which the IRS relaunched last August (see IRS Unveils Revamped Web Site).  “A significant accomplishment has been the relaunch of IRS.gov, an enterprise-wide effort that features new design, navigation and Google-powered search for the public as well as a new platform for future content and functionality upgrades.” Other improvements he pointed to were a revamped “Where’s My Refund” tool, a new “Where’s My Amended Return” tool, new versions of the IRS2Go mobile app for Apple iOS and Google Android, proof-of concept applications for e-authentication and electronic payments, and interactive tools such as locators and calculators.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access