Using one of dozens of scenarios, undercover government auditors were mostly satisfied with the levels of assistance they received at several of the Internal Revenue Service's Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

A report from the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration details the results of auditor visits to more than 70 TACs during the 2006 filing season. Using 47 standard scenarios, the auditors made anonymous visits to 50 TACs asking 200 tax law questions. Later, an additional 10 scenarios relating to the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005 were developed and another 20 visits to additional TACs were made to ask 80 questions.

The report found that TAC workers:

  • Correctly applied the tax law when answering 73 percent of the 200 standard-scenario questions auditors asked, and misapplied the tax law for another 15 percent. For the remaining 13 percent (26 questions) of queries, TAC assistors could not answer the questions and referred taxpayers to other IRS sources.
  • Correctly applied the tax law when answering 75 percent of the 80 Katrina-related questions auditors asked, and misapplied the tax law for another 8 percent. For the other 18 percent (14 questions) of queries, TAC assistors could not answer the questions and referred taxpayers to other IRS sources.

The TIGTA report said assistors answered questions incorrectly because they did not use the required tools, while other contributing factors include the complexity of the tax law and the number of potential questions assistors have to be prepared to answer.Additionally, the report cited the fact that taxpayers making payments are not given priority at the TACs. At one center, taxpayers waiting for assistance with payments totaling $135,000 were turned away so the location could close on time. The average wait time for auditors visiting the 13 surveyed TACs was 23 minutes.
The IRS has agreed with both of the inspector general's recommendations, to have the Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division develop procedures to ensure assistors provide answers to taxpayers' tax law questions and that guidelines should be developed for TAC managers on how to manage customer traffic and wait times.

Across the country, the more than 400 TACs served approximately 4 million taxpayers during the 2006 filing season, assisting about 600,000 of those visitors with tax law issues, according to the IRS. The full report is available at www.ustreas.gov/tigta/auditreports/2006reports/200640122fr.pdf.

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