Need To Better Assess Consequences Before Reducing Taxpayer Assistance

GGD-84-13: Published: Apr 5, 1984. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) taxpayer assistance activities to: (1) assess their accuracy, timeliness, and availability during the 1982 filing season; (2) identify what kinds of assistance users and other taxpayers needed; and (3) identify ways by which IRS could improve its assistance activities.

IRS believes that telephone assistance is the most efficient way to handle taxpayers' questions. In 1982, IRS was able to handle 20 percent more calls than in 1979 while devoting 14 percent fewer staff years to the task, with little reduction in the accuracy and timeliness of responses. However, the increased demand for telephone assistance made it difficult for many taxpayers to get through to IRS. Therefore, the overall utility of telephone assistance declined. In recent years, IRS has reduced the number of its walk-in assistance offices and changed the focus of the services provided in the remaining offices. By deemphasizing tax return preparation and return review assistance, IRS was able to enhance overall productivity, despite the closing of many offices. IRS has not sought to reduce its correspondence assistance program and GAO found that, in the districts reviewed, IRS met its timeliness goals for correspondence with a 99-percent accuracy rate. GAO found that reductions in the availability of telephone assistance affected college graduates, individuals with incomes over $20,000, and individuals age 65 and older. Individuals with lower incomes and the elderly were more affected by walk-in assistance changes.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

    Matter: Congress should continue to provide IRS with funds to operate the telephone, walk-in, and correspondence assistance programs. In deciding on the level of funding for future appropriations, Congress should consider the information contained in this report on the: (1) accuracy, availability, and timeliness of service being provided at current funding levels; and (2) kinds of assistance needed as identified by users of the various IRS programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should develop better management information on the overall utility of the IRS taxpayer assistance program.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should: (1) decide whether and, if so, to what extent and when IRS should consolidate its current toll-free telephone assistance sites; (2) educate and encourage taxpayers who have tax law or account-related questions to use the telephone rather than walk-in assistance and better inform walk-in office assisters of the need for and utility of diverting taxpayers with such questions to telephone assisters; and (3) test the feasibility of expanding the use of library audio tapes by taxpayers and develop data in selected areas on the extent to which taxpayers are benefiting from and are satisfied with the audio tapes.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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