The Taxpayer Advocate Service does not have a formal process for tracking or analyzing the calls it receives from taxpayers calling its toll-free phone line for help with their IRS problems, according to a new report.

The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, found that without such a process, it is not possible to assess the effectiveness of the toll-free phone line, ASK-TAS1, in generating cases that meet the criteria for TAS case assistance.

Millions of taxpayers contact the Internal Revenue Service each year by calling the various toll-free telephone assistance lines to seek help in understanding tax laws and meeting their tax obligations. Taxpayers specifically requesting TAS assistance have several telephone options, including the ASK-TAS1 line.

TIGTA initiated the audit to evaluate the use of two TAS toll-free telephone lines, including service provided to taxpayers and costs associated with the lines, to determine whether opportunities exist to reduce duplication and achieve cost savings. The National Taxpayer Advocate toll-free line, established in 1998, is staffed by Wage and Investment customer service representatives. The ASK-TAS1 toll-free line was established in 2004 and is staffed by TAS personnel.

In addition, TAS management is planning a new process involving both the NTA and the ASK-TAS1 toll-free lines. The new process will require Wage and Investment Division customer service representatives to answer the NTA toll-free line to transfer calls to the ASK-TAS1 toll-free line if they determine a call meets TAS case criteria. While this approach could have merit, it would involve development of additional technological features, additional or reallocated resources, and new procedures for both Wage and Investment Division and TAS employees involved with the toll-free telephone calls.

TAS management had not prepared detailed documentation that clearly outlines their methodology, such as how many TAS personnel will be required to answer the transferred calls and how TAS management would evaluate the costs and expected benefits of handling the increased call volume from the NTA toll-free line when implemented.

TIGTA recommended that the NTA develop a formalized process to track and analyze the impact of any targeted outreach that results in calls received by the ASK-TAS1 toll-free line. The NTA should also prepare detailed documentation that clearly summarizes how the ASK-TAS1 toll-free line will be used in the future, and should periodically analyze the call statistics for the new process to determine whether TAS personnel are answering calls in an efficient manner.

TAS management agreed with all three recommendations. Management’s plans for the ASK-TAS1 toll-free line include tracking and analyzing calls to the line, documenting TAS’s future vision for it, and using statistical information to monitor the transfer of calls to the line.

TAS also plans to roll out a sophisticated new system to handle the increasing call volume.

“By statute, the first prong of TAS’s mission is to ‘assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the Internal Revenue Service,’” wrote National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in response to the report. “As your report notes, 29 percent of TAS cases originate from calls to our two toll-free telephone lines. In fiscal year 2011, there were approximately 390,000 phone calls answered by assistors on the NTA Toll-Free and ASK-TAS1 lines, up 3 percent from FY 2010 and 17 percent from FY 2009. As the number of taxpayers coming to TAS continues to increase, it is imperative that we achieve efficiencies in our case intake processing. To that end, TAS management plans to utilize the new Taxpayer Advocate Service Integrated System platform to enhance the taxpayer experience. TASIS will fundamentally change the way TAS employees perform their duties. It will be the most significant automation innovation in TAS (or its predecessor program, the Problem Resolution Program) in 30 years.”

Olson noted that TASIS would automate work processes, eliminate manual and redundant steps, and allow TAS employees to spend more time focused on the core TAS mission of advocating for taxpayers. TASIS will provide an automated intake process system that encompasses all TAS work, however it is received, whether by phone, walk-in, correspondence, the Internet or more recently, by TAS’s pilot testing of a virtual interaction system. The new TASIS software will be rolled out in the coming year.

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