Tax Administration:

IRS Can Improve on the Success of Its Problem Resolution Program

GGD-88-12: Published: Dec 22, 1987. Publicly Released: Dec 29, 1987.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Problem Resolution Program (PRP), focusing on: (1) its work load and effectiveness; (2) the impact of computer systems; and (3) implementation of prior GAO recommendations.

GAO found that the special assistance work load increased 800 percent between 1979 and 1985, because of: (1) computer problems that resulted in late refunds or erroneous notices; (2) unclear verbal and written communications with taxpayers; and (3) the normal system's inability to resolve taxpayers' problems. GAO also found that taxpayers' satisfaction increased significantly after they received special assistance. In addition, GAO found that IRS: (1) staff frequently failed to identify or timely refer taxpayers to PRP; (2) did not direct taxpayers to call their district office's toll-free telephone line instead of writing to service centers; (3) methodology for evaluating program effectiveness did not provide sufficient information for comprehensive systemwide assessment and improvement; and (4) case-coding system failed to effectively detect the common causes of taxpayer problem inquiries.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1989, IRS revised its Form 4442, as recommended.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should redesign the account referral form used by IRS employees and notices sent to taxpayers so that information is obtained on the number of prior taxpayer contacts and the time period during which the taxpayer attempted to resolve a problem.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS provided telephone assistors additional training and access to account information to more expeditiously deal with taxpayers' inquiries. IRS notices contain the toll-free telephone numbers, but will not be revised to encourage taxpayers to call district offices rather than correspond with service centers.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should revise IRS notices to request that taxpayers who have questions use the toll-free telephone system before writing to a service center.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has revised the PRP questionnaire along the lines GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should improve the usefulness of the PRP questionnaire follow-up effort by: (1) including questions on when contacts were made to assess how well IRS employees are identifying special assistance cases; (2) including questions addressing the reasons for taxpayers' repeated contacts with IRS; (3) revising the question assessing taxpayer satisfaction to avoid prompting taxpayers to give a positive response; (4) monitoring and evaluating the appropriateness of service center and district office decisions to exclude certain taxpayers from follow-up; and (5) obtaining a more statistically projectable response rate.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS is revising and improving its case coding system, but intends to continue to have all employees rather than a select cadre code the cases. GAO considers this recommendation closed.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should obtain more complete and accurate information on recurring problems by having only a select number of trained employees code a statistically projectable sample of special assistance cases they handled.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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