Washington, D.C.-Taxpayers' opinions of tax preparers seem to chime with the Internal Revenue Service's plans to require tax preparers to meet competency and ethical standards, according to a new report by the IRS Oversight Board.

In the report, 78 percent of those surveyed indicate that it is "very important" that tax preparers meet standards of "ethical behavior," while 73 percent believe it is very important that preparers meet competency standards. The numbers are in line with findings from the board's 2008 survey.

While the survey did not explicitly ask about the IRS's current plans to require preparers to register, take CPE courses and be tested, 55 percent of taxpayers indicated that it would have a "great deal of influence" on them if the preparer is subject to regulations or licensing by a government entity, either federal or state. That's compared to 39 percent who said that there would be a great deal of influence on them in choosing a preparer if they were subject to regulation or licensing by an industry association.

The survey showed a reduction from 2008 levels in the importance and likelihood to use tax assistance services from the IRS, however. There was an eight-point drop from 78 to 70 percent among those who felt a toll-free telephone number to answer questions is "very important." The board is concerned about recent reductions in IRS toll-free phone service levels as the demand for customer service continues to grow from taxpayers seeking answers about new and extended tax credits.

There was a similar drop in taxpayer attitudes from 2008 levels about one-on-one assistance, including offices where taxpayers can meet with an IRS representative, as well as a five-point drop in the number of taxpayers who said it would be likely for them to visit a Web site that would provide them with information. The board speculates that toll-free telephone service has such an important role in affecting taxpayers' attitudes about IRS service that a decline in telephone service may influence taxpayers' attitudes toward other IRS service channels, such as visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center or using its Web site.

Only 10 percent of those surveyed believe that the IRS devotes too much of its resources to customer service and not enough to enforcement. Almost half (47 percent) believe that the IRS maintains a proper balance between the two.

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