IRS Telephone Assistance:

Opportunities to Improve Human Capital Management

GAO-01-144: Published: Jan 30, 2001. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2001.

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Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determines the staffing level for its toll-free telephone customer service operations. GAO found that IRS lacks a long-term telephone customer service goal that reflects the needs of taxpayers and the costs and benefits of meeting that goal. Rather, IRS annually determines the level of funding it will seek for its customer service workforce, using its judgment of how to best balance service and compliance activities. IRS then calculates the level of service that funding levels will provide. This approach is inconsistent with the Government Performance and Results Act and the practice of selected public and private call centers that field questions. IRS recognizes the shortcomings of its personnel management and will include performance measures and goals in its 2002 strategic plan. According to IRS officials, the agency also faces challenges in recruiting, training, retaining, and scheduling customer service representatives. IRS is developing a strategy to address each of these issues.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: IRS has not developed a long-term (multi-year) goal for its measure--Customer Service Representative (CSR) Level Of Service. The Government Performance and Results Act requires that an agency's long-term strategic plan include goals and objectives for the major functions and operations of the agency. Without a long-term goal for CSR level of service and plans to reach that goal over time, IRS lacks meaningful targets for managing call-center performance and measuring improvement. IRS currently plans to include long-term goals in its Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint in accordance with a Congressional directive to measure the taxpayer services provided against the needs and preferences of current individual taxpayers, and develop a five year plan for improving those services.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take several steps to improve IRS' human capital management practices related to providing telephone customer service. Specifically, the Commissioner should establish a long-term, desired service-level goal based on taxpayers' needs, together with annual goals designed to make progress toward reaching that long-term goal over time, and work with congressional and other stakeholders to obtain their support and the resources needed to reach those goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS did not have a system for assessing customer service representatives (CSR) competency gaps; therefore, it could not effectively target scarce training resources to meet individual training needs. GAO recommended that IRS establish a system for assessing CSR's competency gaps and meeting the refresher training needs identified by the assessments. As a result of GAO's recommendation, IRS established a certification process for CSR, whereby CSR are certified in tax law and trained in application processes. The process ensures that CSR are proficient in their assigned task(s). The impact of the certification process is CSR are more proficient in answering taxpayers' tax law and account questions as evidenced by improved tax law and accounts accuracy rates since the 2001 Filing Season.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take several steps to improve IRS' human capital management practices related to providing telephone customer service. Specifically, the Commissioner should establish a system for assessing customer service representatives' competency gaps and meeting the refresher training needs identified by the assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS did not have a system for monitoring call center attrition, which would have identified the causes of attrition for IRS to use to develop strategies for dealing with customer service representative (CSR) attrition. GAO recommended that IRS develop a system for monitoring call center attrition and identifying its causes and use the information to develop strategies for dealing with the attrition of CSRs. As a result of GAO's recommendation, IRS established a system for monitoring call center attrition. Accounts Management (AM), the organization responsible for call sites, monitors and tracks CSR attrition as a part of the resource monitoring and budgeting process. In addition, they collect and review attrition information at the site level and use the data as a foundation for resource allocation and staffing projections/decisions. As a result of IRS monitoring call center attrition, IRS knows both the internal and external sources that may have an impact on CSR attrition. IRS uses this information to plan for filing season.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take several steps to improve IRS' human capital management practices related to providing telephone customer service. Specifically, the Commissioner should develop a system for monitoring call center attrition and identifying its causes and use the information gathered from that system to develop, as appropriate, strategies for dealing with the attrition of customer service representatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: IRS has not implemented this recommendation. In response to this recommendation, IRS officials stated that IRS is finalizing for publication its first annual Human Capital Strategic Plan (HCSP). The five year plan is designed to ensure that the IRS builds and maintains the workforce needed to carry out its mission in an efficient, effective and productive manner. In order to examine performance of the plan at the micro level, a Human Capital Strategic Implementation Plan is under development to focus on specific program/projects throughout the Service that support achievement of the goals.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take several steps to improve IRS' human capital management practices related to providing telephone customer service. Specifically, the Commissioner should ensure that IRS' evaluations of human capital management practices consider the effects of those practices on its ability to achieve long- and short-term customer service goals and interrelationships among human capital practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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