The National Taxpayer Advocate says that the 2016 filing season went “much more smoothly” than last year’s.

As part of her annual June Objectives Report to Congress, which was released today, NTA Nina Olson said that the IRS delivered a generally successful filing season in 2016. It substantially improved taxpayer service on its toll-free telephone lines compared to 2015. It nearly doubled the percentage of calls it answered and reduced wait times by more than half.

Much of the primary focus of her report, however, was on the public forums she has conducted so far this year, and the reactions they offered to the IRS’s plans for the future.

The National Taxpayer Advocate submits two reports to Congress each year: an annual report, delivered in January, and an objectives report, delivered in June. In her most recent annual report, at the beginning of the year, Olson cited the IRS “Future State” plan that envisions how the agency will operate in five years and beyond. A central component of the plan is the development of online taxpayer accounts, aspects of which Olson praised.

However, she expressed concern that the IRS intent in developing the accounts is largely to save money in light of recent budget cuts by reducing telephone and face-to-face assistance. She also cautioned that many taxpayers will not conduct business with the IRS through online accounts because they lack Internet access or skills, cannot complete the authentication process required to set up an account, do not trust the security of the IRS system, or would prefer to speak with an IRS employee. As a result, she expressed concern that critical taxpayer needs may go unmet under the Future State plan.

Olson conducted eight public forums to allow direct feedback from the public on the IRS Future State plan, and Thursday’s report contains extended excerpts from the transcripts of the forums, organized around key concerns that Olson identified in her earlier report or that panelists consistently raised. Information on the forums, including complete transcripts, is available on the Taxpayer Advocate site.

Olson announced that Taxpayer Advocate Service will conduct a nationwide survey of a statistically representative sample of U.S. taxpayers about their needs, preferences, and experience with IRS taxpayer service and will hold focus groups on the IRS Future State at the IRS Tax Forums this summer.

The report also identifies and discusses 14 other priority issues the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate plans to focus on during the upcoming fiscal year. Among them are the FATCA burden, private debt collection implementation, levies on retirement accounts, Earned Income Tax Credit compliance, and identity theft victim assistance procedures.

Later this month, TAS will release a second volume of the report that contains the IRS’s responses to the administrative recommendations the National Taxpayer Advocate made in her 2015 Annual Report to Congress, along with additional TAS analysis of, and comments on, the IRS responses.

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