Tax Administration:

Assessment of IRS' 2000 Tax Filing Season

GAO-01-158: Published: Dec 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 2000.

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GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) performance during the 2000 tax filing season. Except for a few relatively minor glitches, which were not unexpected given the enormity of the IRS processing task, the processing systems worked well. On the other hand, although taxpayers had an easier time reaching IRS by telephone compared to 1999, IRS' performance was still well below the level achieved in 1998. GAO identified several opportunities for improvement. In some areas, such as with the volunteer assistance programs and the assistance provided by IRS' walk-in sites and area distribution centers, the opportunities centered around performance measures. In those areas, it was not easy to assess the agency's performance because either IRS lacked good measures or there were problems with the data behind the measures. Other improvement opportunities centered around management oversight-the kind of oversight that would enhance the level of service provided by better ensuring that (1) training materials and computer equipment were delivered to the volunteer assistance sites on time and in working condition and (2) data being entered on the website by various IRS offices are current and consistent.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to IRS officials, it tested and implemented an order tracking system in 2002 that would track an order from the time it is received until it is filled. Under this system, IRS uses software to document when an order for IRS forms and publications is received. IRS then developed a timeliness measure to monitor the time taken to fill the order, which could than be compared to the agency's 10-day delivery goal. The system also tracks the time for backorders to help monitor time required for printing and related processes at the back-end.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to better ensure that area distribution centers provide timely service in filling orders for forms and publications by revising the order-filling timeliness measure so that (1) time is tracked from the day the order is received; and (2) tracking does not end until the entire order is filled, even if backorders are involved.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to IRS, it (1) developed a new Intranet ordering system for field offices to use in monitoring daily the status of their orders, and (2) revised its volunteer tax preparation site visitation report to include specific questions that can be used to gauge the site's ability to provide assistance to taxpayers. GAO's review of the revised report indicated that it provided the kind of volunteer site visitation/review guidance that GAO found lacking during its review in 2000.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to identify the underlying causes for (1) untimely delivery of an adequate supply of materials to volunteer assistance sites, and (2) inadequate district review of site operations, and take action to address those underlying causes.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its report, GAO noted that IRS was assessing the quality of returns prepared by volunteer sites, but did not have measures for assessing the timeliness of service provided by the sites or taxpayer satisfaction with those services. IRS has since, with the help of a contractor, conducted surveys to measure (1) the satisfaction of providers of volunteer services with the support provided by IRS, and (2) the satisfaction of taxpayers who used the services of volunteers. As part of the latter survey, taxpayers were asked about their satisfaction with the amount of time they had to wait for service and the quality of the service received.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to, in collaboration with IRS' partners in providing volunteer assistance, develop performance measures for volunteer assistance sites that can be used to ensure that taxpayers are receiving an adequate level of service.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During an audit of IRS' 2000 tax filing season, GAO found that the data used by IRS to monitor timeliness at its walk-in sites was limited by three factors: 1) it did not establish a standardized time with which to hold sites accountable for responding to taxpayers needs or unanticipated changes; 2) wait-times were, in many cases, being computed manually and more prone to error; and 3) regional variation in different reporting formats created a potential for inconsistent results. Consequently, GAO recommended that IRS enhance the usefulness of data by providing it in a standard format and establish wait-time goals. The steps taken by IRS since the 2001 filing season to address the factors limiting the usefulness of timeliness data from IRS walk-in sites. First, according to IRS officials, it has established a wait-time reporting requirement at walk-in sites as part of the Internal Revenue Manual. Second, wait-times at nearly all walk-in sites are calculate via an automated system and on a virtually real-time basis. Therefore, IRS management has enhanced wait-time information readily available. Managers can retrieve the reports daily, weekly or annually from the system. Managers can track and monitor live customer wait-time in the walk-in site on a daily basis. This information is used by IRS to determine staffing and training needs.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to enhance the usefulness of walk-in site wait-time data by providing a standard format for field offices to use in reporting that information to the National Office and specifying the percentage of time that walk-in sites are to meet established wait-time goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During an audit of IRS' 2000 tax filing season, GAO found several instances of data on IRS' web site that were either obsolete or inconsistent. Contributing to the problem was the lack of responsibility for ensuring information on IRS' web site was accurate and up-to-date. Consequently, GAO recommended that IRS (1) assign clear responsibility in a central location for identifying and correcting outdated and inconsistent data; and (2) develop minimum requirements for information to be included on the stage pages in the "Around the Nation" section of the site. Regarding the latter, IRS should consider including information on the location of walk-in sites and their hours of operation. As of March, 2005, IRS was working on the development of its content management program. However, it will not have fully implemented it until 2007 because of budget constraints. Still, IRS had taken intermediate steps to address concerns raised in GAO's report. After reviewing these steps and IRS' web site, we support IRS officials' view that the intermediate steps that it has taken seem to have eliminated out-of-date and inaccurate information from being on the web site. Furthermore, IRS has taken steps to improve the accuracy and currency of information by assigning officials to be accountable for information on their sections. Additionally, IRS is working with a contractor to redesign and support its web site. Finally, IRS has added data on its web site regarding the locations and hours to its walk-in sites. We find these intermediate steps, together with the progress on development and implementation, to be sufficient to address and correct the problem identified by the GAO report.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to better ensure that IRS' Web site contains accurate and useful information by (1) assigning clear responsibility in a central location for identifying and correcting outdated and inconsistent data; and (2) developing minimum requirements for information to be included on the stage pages in the "Around the Nation" section of the site. Regarding the latter, consider including information on the location of walk-in sites and their hours of operation.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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