Tax Administration:

Better Training Needed for IRS' New Telephone Assistors

GGD-91-83: Published: Jun 12, 1991. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 1991.

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GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) training program for new telephone assistors, whose purpose is to assist taxpayers with questions regarding tax law, their accounts, and other issues relating to filing their tax returns.

GAO found that: (1) the IRS process for selecting task force members to revise its training material was unsatisfactory due to inadequate training, preparation, and clerical support for task force members; (2) despite substantial changes in its instructional materials over the years, IRS has not sufficiently evaluated the effectiveness of its course material; (3) IRS believed that budget and time constraints precluded comprehensive course material evaluation; (4) without adequate evaluation, IRS could not ensure that it provided effective training to its new assistors; (5) IRS tests did not provide adequate assurance that trainees would perform well, since some tests were inconsistent with job performance expectations; (6) IRS relied heavily on on-the-job training (OJT) to ensure adequate training, but OJT training instructors had limited opportunity to identify and remedy all trainee weaknesses; (7) IRS lacked standard performance criteria or tests to evaluate overall training proficiency; and (8) training program problems may be further heightened by IRS instructor selection policy, which did not ensure that only capable instructors taught its courses.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has taken action to provide more training in writing and course development skills to task force members.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS provides the additional training in writing, course development, and task force expectations to ensure that all task force members are properly prepared.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS agrees and has contracted with a vendor to provide adequate clerical assistance for the task forces.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS provides adequate clerical assistance for each task force.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has implemented the Training Development Quality Assurance System for assessment and evaluation of course materials.

    Recommendation: To improve the Phase 1 course materials, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS assesses each year's course material revisions and conduct sufficient evaluation to ensure that the revisions are technically accurate and effectively convey the intended subject matter.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: IRS did not agree with this recommendation. IRS stated that its tests of student and instructor guides, which it considered course material, showed that these materials did not exceed the ninth grade reading level. IRS stated that, although Publication 17 is used extensively for reading assignments and on the job, it is not considered a part of the course materials.

    Recommendation: To improve the Phase 1 course materials, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS tests a sample of trainees to determine their average reading grade levels and, if necessary, revise the training materials to be as consistent as possible with trainees' reading abilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has rewritten tax law tests reducing the number of yes/no questions significantly. Probing questions were not added because of legal problems.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take steps to reduce the number of yes/no questions used on tax law tests and add questions that test probing skills.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: IRS stated that objectives not met in class are certified in OJT and that slower learners may successfully master all objectives in this post-classroom phase. IRS did not intend to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should take steps to require trainees to pass all of the tax law objectives tested.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has reinforced existing guidance to ensure that trainee classroom performance information is recorded and communicated to OJT instructors.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that comprehensive and useful trainee classroom performance information is recorded in student development guides and communicated to OJT instructors for use in planning OJT remedial training.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has reinforced existing guidance to ensure that classroom instructors include exercises that allow the opportunity to observe and document trainee weaknesses.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that classroom instructors include sufficient exercises to provide them with adequate opportunity to observe and document trainee weaknesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has implemented an approach where OJT is interspersed with classroom work, as GAO recommended.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS provides OJT interspersed with classroom activities whenever feasible.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has developed ways to provide instructors with a better basis to measure trainee performance on untested objectives.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS defines satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance on untested objectives so instructors can better identify, document, and remedy trainee weaknesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has issued new guidance to ensure that OJT instructors attend appropriate training to plan and administer OJT. This action was taken on February 7, 1992.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that OJT instructors attend appropriate and adequate training to plan and administer OJT.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has implemented a job simulation test to measure trainee performance before certification, as GAO recommended. The test is part of the process to certify that a student has completed OJT.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS develops a comprehensive job simulating OJT test that is based on standard minimum performance criteria and measures job skills and performance before certification.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has taken steps to eliminate teaching as a requirement for the TSS position.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS eliminates teaching as a requirement of the taxpayer service specialist (TSS) position.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has developed a checklist that outlines the tasks and expectations needed to update training. A longer training session to better prepare task force members is now conducted and more specific training is provided for task force members with recurring involvement.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS develops a corps of skilled and experienced people to provide the nucleus for each year's task force.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS now fills instructor positions by competitive selection.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should ensure that IRS competitively selects instructors on the basis of ability and interest.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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