The Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Assistance Centers are located too far away from the majority of taxpayers to be able to serve them effectively, according to a new government report.

The IRS provides taxpayers with the option of obtaining in-person tax assistance at 401 TACs nationwide. IRS employees who work in the TACs assist taxpayers by interpreting tax laws and regulations, preparing certain individual tax returns, resolving inquiries on taxpayer accounts, accepting payments, and providing various other services designed to minimize the burden on taxpayers in satisfying their tax obligations. It is important that TACs be optimally located to serve the most taxpayers.

The Department of the Treasury requested that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration conduct the review to determine whether the current distribution of the TACs is cost effective in terms of coverage and quality of services provided. TIGTA’s audit follows prior audit reports on the TAC program that identified that key management information used to make decisions and support changes for the TACs was either incorrect, absent, or based on incomplete data.

“The important role that Taxpayer Assistance Centers provide the American people cannot be overstated,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “It is clear that most people will pay what they owe if they can figure out what is due to the IRS. It is imperative that the IRS takes every step to ensure that the taxpayers have the ability to ask questions and receive correct answers as they labor to fulfill this most important civic duty.”

The IRS acknowledged that the locations of most TACs have not changed significantly since fiscal year 2000 and they have not kept pace with shifts in population and demographics. Currently, 35 percent of the United States population does not live within 30 minutes of a TAC, meaning more than 100 million taxpayers do not have convenient access to a TAC. Conversely, 28 percent of the United States population lives within 30 minutes of more than one TAC.

As of October 2010, no actions had been taken to combine, relocate or close the TACs. IRS officials cited budget constraints and legislative concerns as reasons the IRS has not moved forward. This has caused the IRS to delay conducting any cost-benefit or return-on-investment analyses needed to make any recommendations regarding combining, relocating or closing the TACs.

The IRS has not validated the data used in its current geographic coverage model. Without clear documentation on the methodology they used, it is difficult to determine the reliability of the model’s results. In addition, it would be difficult to compare results over a period of time.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS validate the data used in the geographic coverage model and ensure that all its decisions, along with the data used and methodologies for making the decisions, are supported and documented; and identify opportunities to better align the TACs with taxpayer needs and complete the evaluative process in the Geographic Footprint Initiative, including a cost-benefit analysis, return-on-investment analysis, taxpayer impact, stakeholder input, and communication plan.

The IRS agreed with the recommendations and plans to develop more detailed documentation of the methodology used by the model, as well as a version control system to provide documentation of any changes made to the model methodology or updates to the source data.

The IRS plans to identify opportunities to better align the TACs with taxpayer needs on a case-by-case basis, as leases expire or events occur that require unplanned relocations.

Separately, the IRS announced Wednesday that nearly 100 IRS offices will be open on Saturday, March 26, to help taxpayers. The location of participating offices is listed on IRS.gov.

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