The IRS should follow the lead of state motor vehicle bureaus to improve customer service, according to a new report from an IRS watchdog.

The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration said the IRS should post waiting times for its 401 Taxpayer Assistance Centers on its Web site and offer taxpayers the ability to schedule appointments online to get help with preparing their tax returns.

Nearly 7 million taxpayers visited the centers last year to get face-to-face assistance from the IRS, including help interpreting tax laws and regulations, preparing individual tax returns, resolving inquiries on taxpayer accounts, and accepting payments. Last year, 18 percent of the taxpayers who visited the centers waited more than 30 minutes for service. About 500,000 of them asked for help preparing their returns. Some taxpayers were able to receive appointments the same day they arrived, but most were required to return another day for appointments to prepare their returns.

In response to TIGTA audits over the past three years, the IRS has developed and implemented three different information systems to capture the number of taxpayers visiting TACs and the primary service provided to each. TIGTA found that taxpayers typically receive multiple services, which are not recorded.

While these systems have increased the availability of data needed to make management decisions, train employees and reduce taxpayer burden, more could be done, TIGTA concluded. TIGTA recommended that the IRS track all the services provided to each taxpayer visiting one of the centers, instead of just counting the one service on which the assistor spends the most time. The remaining services are not captured.

"Without knowing the actual number and types of services provided, the IRS lacks the data to make informed management decisions about how the Taxpayer Assistance Centers can best serve taxpayers," said Inspector General J. Russell George. However, he acknowledged that the IRS has implemented 93 percent of the corrective actions recommended by his office in previous reports

TIGTA recommended that the IRS identify multiple services provided to taxpayers; use existing system data to identify opportunities for improving taxpayer services; ensure that internal controls are reinforced; and provide wait times and appointment scheduling capabilities on IRS.gov. The IRS partially concurred with TIGTA’s recommendations, but said it wasn't feasible or cost-efficient to schedule online appointments and provide wait-time estimates.

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