The IRS’s increased emphasis on enforcement, rising caseloads, the economy, and recent legislative changes are among the many challenges confronting the Taxpayer Advocate Service, according to a new report.

The report, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, found that many internal and external factors have affected the TAS’s ability to assist taxpayers in a timely manner. For example, the number of TAS cases involving identity theft increased from 2,486 in fiscal year 2006 to 14,023 in FY 2009 (an increase of more than 460 percent).

Overall, TAS has experienced a 38 percent increase in case receipts since FY 2005. TAS’s internal policy of accepting all cases referred to it by other IRS functions may have contributed to the increase in case receipts. In FY 2009, cases were open an average of 80 calendar days, an increase of 14 calendar days (22 percent) since FY 2005.

Collectively, TIGTA believes these factors have made it challenging for the TAS to accomplish part of its mission related to timely resolving taxpayer problems.

Yet despite the challenges, TAS, which is an independent organization within the IRS, is reporting high overall quality (88 percent) and customer satisfaction (84 percent) ratings, according to the report.

“The Taxpayer Advocate Service plays an important role in tax administration by helping taxpayers who have tried, unsuccessfully, to resolve their tax problems using normal IRS channels,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “However, I believe many of the issues identified in our review will continue to present challenges for this problem-solving organization.”

The report made no recommendations. TAS management overall agreed with the facts and conclusions of the report regarding the major trends over the past five years, and provided additional perspective related to the TAS’s change in authority and its effect on the issuance of operations assistance requests to the operating divisions. In addition, TAS management also provided input related to the increase in case-processing time.

“At the management level, we have taken and are continuing to take significant steps to reduce the burden that this increase in cases is placing on our employees,” wrote National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in a letter included in the report. “For example, we implemented a workload re-balancing initiative to even out workloads across our offices.”

She added that her office plans to roll out a new integrated computer system in 2013 that will help case advocates achieve much greater efficiency.

In response to the finding that cases were taking two weeks longer to resolve than in 2005, Olson noted, “I would like to reiterate that the primary goal of our case advocates is to fully resolve all related issues for the taxpayer. While we aim to accomplish this as quickly as possible, we would rather take longer and resolve the case correctly than score a quick hit but fail to assist a taxpayer properly.”

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