Tax Administration:

More Improvement Needed in IRS Correspondence

GGD-94-118: Published: Jun 1, 1994. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) handling of taxpayer correspondence.

GAO found that: (1) IRS has made progress in correcting its correspondence problems by adopting standards for quality and timeliness and by expanding quality reviews of outgoing correspondence; (2) a review at two IRS service centers showed that 15 percent of the responses to taxpayer correspondence were incorrect, unclear, incomplete, or nonresponsive; (3) IRS still lacks an automated inventory tracking system and a standardized letter writing system and has not surveyed taxpayer satisfaction with IRS correspondence; and (4) IRS is creating customer service centers that will handle future taxpayer contacts and be more responsive to taxpayer needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Management now requires each service center to conduct quarterly reviews of interim letters. Each center determines its own sampling plan and review procedures based on local needs and resources. The National Office will examine the results of these procedures during program reviews at the centers.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to review samples of interim letters to ensure that improvement in quality results from the revised guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 1994, IRS issued a memorandum titled "Action on Interim Letter Guidelines" to the service centers. A training package on interim letters was also provided to all IRS employees who correspond with taxpayers.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to reassess the purposes of interim letters and then provide the service centers with clear guidelines for accomplishing those purposes.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In January 1995, IRS stated that using mail-out dates as a timeliness indicator was not logistically feasible. IRS has no plans to use mail-out dates as a timeliness indicator.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to use correspondence mail-out dates instead of the date a response was initiated as a timeliness indicator and adopt goals for providing taxpayers with final responses.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS agreed to take steps to ensure that all taxpayer inquiries were answered. It is amending its procedures to ensure that taxpayer inquiries regarding installment agreement payments are promptly acknowledged. It also plans to review correspondence procedures to make sure that they conform with Action 61 guidelines, IRS' program for implementing the correspondence task force recommendations. Customer Service Branch and Notice/Automated Systems Branch have determined that with the existing Action 61 instructions in the IRMs for use by District Office, and the direction of future correspondence to Submission Processing Centers, this is a completed item. The procedures in the IRMs state the Action 61 guidelines for non-case related correspondence and how it should be handled.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to clarify IRS existing procedures for responding to taxpayer requests to ensure that taxpayers' questions do not go unanswered.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS agreed that its notices, letters, and publications should alert taxpayers to situations that can be resolved more promptly by telephoning rather than writing. It plans to use the results of a test at the Fresno Service Center to help plan future staffing and communication rules. The January 1996 Correspondex transmittal update includes new closing paragraphs on turn-around IDRS letters, which encourage taxpayers to call and not write. Phase I of the Customer Service Transition began in October 1995. Seven IMF notices were revised to reflect a new toll-free number in addition to language changes encouraging taxpayers to call and not write. As a result, three Service Centers began receiving account-related calls. Implementation of Phase II began in March 1996 and was to be completed by July 1996. An additional 32 notices will be revised encouraging taxpayers to call the new toll-free number.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to clarify the wording in IRS notices, letters, and publications to better inform taxpayers of those situations that can be handled by a telephone call. Before implementing this recommendation, however, IRS first needs to ensure that its telephone system can meet the additional demand.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Responding to the recommendations, IRS hired a contractor to review and improve district office notices/correspondence to taxpayers. The specific recommendation to meet user requirements for letter writing and inventory control systems is no longer applicable in that these systems were to be a part of the Integrated Case Processing system, which was subsequently terminated. IRS plans to reassess/meet such requirements as a part of its overall systems modernization program. Finally, IRS is working on customer satisfaction surveys for activities such as examination and customer service. While measurement of customer satisfaction is a long-term process, IRS seems to be moving in the right direction in developing measures to gauge taxpayers' views of the services they receive from IRS.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct IRS staff to implement Correspondence Task Force recommendations to: (1) incorporate correspondence improvements at district offices; (2) meet user requirements for a letter writing system and an automated inventory control system; and (3) measure taxpayer satisfaction.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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