GAO: IRS im­proved cus­tomer ser­vice

Accounting Today - - Taxpractice - By Michael Cohn

The In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice im­proved its cus­tomer ser­vice this past tax sea­son, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port from the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice, de­spite the chal­lenges of re­spond­ing to in­quiries about the re­cently passed tax over­haul.

The re­port ac­knowl­edged that the IRS faced mul­ti­ple chal­lenges dur­ing the 2018 tax fil­ing sea­son, but the GAO found the IRS im­proved its cus­tomer ser­vice this year and met the tar­get dates for pro­cess­ing re­turns and is­su­ing re­funds. That hap­pened de­spite a sys­tem out­age on tax fil­ing day that led to some last-minute chaos. The IRS also took steps to han­dle changes, such as tax rate re­vi­sions, un­der the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Congress passed last De­cem­ber.

But that doesn’t mean the IRS can rest on its lau­rels. Be­fore the 2019 fil­ing sea­son be­gins, the GAO pointed out the IRS needs to re­pro­gram its com­puter sys­tems to process tax re­turns, re­vise nearly 500 forms and in­struc­tions, hire and train em­ploy­ees, and help tax­pay­ers un­der­stand the changes when fil­ing taxes in 2019. To help ac­com­plish these tasks, the IRS has set up a cen­tral of­fice to co­or­di­nate ef­forts across the agency.

The GAO said that for the third year in a row, the IRS has im­proved its tele­phone ser­vice by an­swer­ing 80 per­cent of calls seek­ing live as­sis­tance and re­duc­ing wait times to about five min­utes, as of the end of the 2018 fil­ing sea­son. That com­pares to 37.5 per­cent of calls an­swered with an aver­age wait time of about 23 min­utes dur­ing the 2015 fil­ing sea­son. The gen­er­ally up­beat find­ings con­trast with a re­port to Congress re­leased in June by Na­tional Tax­payer Ad­vo­cate Nina Ol­son. Her re­port said the IRS re­ported it achieved a “level of ser­vice” on its toll-free phone help lines of 80 per­cent dur­ing the 2018 fil­ing sea­son, but con­tended IRS tele­phone as­sis­tors ac­tu­ally an­swered only 29 per­cent of the calls the IRS re­ceived.

Tax­payer use of on­line ser­vices also in­creased, ac­cord­ing to the GAO re­port, in­clud­ing and its on­line ac­count tool that al­lows tax­pay­ers to view their bal­ance due. Nev­er­the­less, an­swer­ing tax­payer cor­re­spon­dence is still a chal­lenge for the agency. The IRS was late re­spond­ing to ap­prox­i­mately 37 per­cent of cor­re­spon­dence as of the end of the 2018 fil­ing sea­son, com­pared to around 26 per­cent at the same time in 2017.

In 2015, the GAO rec­om­mended that the Trea­sury Depart­ment in­clude time­li­ness in han­dling tax­payer cor­re­spon­dence as part of its per­for­mance goals, but as of June 2018 the Trea­sury has not done so. Over­all, de­spite mul­ti­ple chal­lenges in­clud­ing mid-fil­ing sea­son changes to tax law and a com­puter sys­tem fail­ure, the GAO said the IRS met its pro­cess­ing tar­gets for in­di­vid­ual tax re­turns.

In 2018, the IRS started tak­ing steps to im­ple­ment sig­nif­i­cant tax law changes from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. To im­ple­ment the changes, the IRS set up a cen­tral­ized of­fice to co­or­di­nate im­ple­men­ta­tion across the agency’s of­fices and di­vi­sions. IRS of­fi­cials are con­cerned, though, about the broad scope and com­plex­ity of the changes — which will mean ex­ten­sive changes to tax forms, publi­ca­tions and com­puter sys­tems — along with the one-year time frame, cit­ing them as key im­ple­men­ta­tion chal­lenges.


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