The IRS Oversight Board at its recent meeting raised concerns over the agency's plan to close some of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers this fall.

Last month, as part of cost-cutting measures, the IRS said that it would forge ahead with plans to close 68 of the 400 centers, which provide walk-in service for taxpayers on tax law, tax return preparation and account inquiry resolution via face-to-face meetings with IRS employees.

"The board does not quarrel with the IRS's methodology used to determine which Taxpayer Assistance Centers it will close. Rather, the board raised concerns about options that would lower the IRS's own aspirations to provide meaningful services to all taxpayers who must deal with an extremely complex tax system," said board chairman Raymond T. Wagner Jr. "For the past few years, we've seen dramatic, positive changes in the services the IRS provides taxpayers. We must ensure those gains are not lost."

Upon announcing the move in May, IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson said that the walk-in sites are the IRS's most costly service vehicle.

"Like most other federal agencies, we're being asked to create efficiencies and be responsible with taxpayers' dollars. Using objective criteria, we're creating these efficiencies where they'll have the least impact on good service," Everson had said, adding that, "We find taxpayers prefer to use our toll-free phone lines where their questions can be routed to subject matter experts."

Everson said that the closures would allow it to focus on "activities that provide the most efficient services."

However, the Oversight Board's Wagner said in a statement, "Obtaining service via the Internet is ideal for many taxpayers, but others may need personal assistance at an IRS walk-in center or over the toll-free telephone lines. The IRS must understand those taxpayers' needs and make decisions that will support their efforts to comply voluntarily with the law."

In its March IRS budget report, the board noted its concern over "shifting resources away from customer service ... and imposing a one-size-fits-all approach to customer service," including closing the Taxpayer Assistance Centers. The board's recommended budget doesn't close any walk-in sites.

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