Tax Administration:

IRS Efforts to Improve Forms and Publications

GGD-95-34: Published: Dec 7, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the accuracy and clarity of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) forms and publications, focusing on: (1) the adequacy of the process IRS uses to revise its tax forms; (2) IRS efforts to improve this process; and (3) IRS efforts to increase taxpayer involvement in the process.

GAO found that: (1) IRS efforts to provide taxpayers with accurate and easy-to-read tax forms have been hampered by increasingly complex tax codes, frequent tax code revisions, and taxpayers' reading ability; (2) the IRS process for developing and revising its tax forms and publications appears reasonable and provides clear lines of responsibility and accountability, specific timeframes, adequate management oversight, sufficient opportunities to evaluate suggestions from internal and external sources, and appropriate strategies for coping with sudden tax law changes; (3) IRS periodically reviews and revises its publications and tax forms so that accurate forms and publications are available to taxpayers for each filing season; (4) IRS considers comments from taxpayers and tax preparers, payroll professionals, accountants, and lawyers regarding clarity improvements; (5) IRS has initiated several special projects to study taxpayer comprehension problems and to further improve its forms and publications; (6) despite its ongoing commitment to improvement, IRS does not have a systematic way to identify the specific areas that cause individual taxpayer confusion; and (7) IRS needs to find ways to readily identify the specific concerns of individual taxpayers.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS established a public forms suggestion hotline to analyze data on taxpayers' calls to its tax-topic-by-demand call-in system, held town meetings in several cities to obtain input from small businesses and tax practitioners, and identified different options for gathering information from its toll-free telephone system.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct agency staff to make additional efforts to identify the specific concerns of individual taxpayers. Identifying these concerns may be accomplished in a variety of ways, including gathering information concerning the nature of taxpayer questions received through its toll-free telephone system.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS front-line personnel attended town meetings held by IRS' Tax Forms and Publications Division in several cities and provided the division information on problem areas in forms and publications for taxpayers. The division met with IRS assistors who answer taxpayers' calls for assistance to obtain suggestions for improving the forms and publications, based on the assistors' dealings with taxpayers. (Forty-one percent of their recommendations were adopted; others are under consideration for 1996.) Additional feedback from small businesses and practitioners was obtained from their meeting with the Commissioner in April 1995. Changes have been made to the forms. Other changes will result from continuous monitoring.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct agency staff to make additional efforts to identify the specific concerns of individual taxpayers. Identifying these concerns may be accomplished in a variety of ways, including soliciting information from IRS field personnel including auditors, examiners, and customer-service representatives for the sole purpose of identifying common errors made by taxpayers that may be related to confusing passages in forms and publications.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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