IRS Customer Service:

Management Strategy Shows Promise But Could Be Improved

GGD-99-88: Published: May 5, 1999. Publicly Released: May 5, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) efforts to improve customer service.

GAO noted that: (1) IRS' strategy for managing the implementation of its customer service initiatives shows promise but could be improved; (2) IRS' basic approach was to establish a central office, the Taxpayer Service and Treatment Improvement Program (TSI), and form a high-level steering committee, chaired by the Commissioner, to oversee the implementation of improvement initiatives that were being carried out by many different IRS and Department of the Treasury offices; (3) TSI and the steering committee were established in January 1998; (4) in its early months, TSI had problems carrying out its responsibilities; (5) officials attributed most of the problems to the large number of potential initiatives on the agenda; (6) by January 1999, TSI and the steering committee had taken steps to: (a) prioritize the initiatives, reducing the number to 157 primary initiatives; (b) align these initiatives to IRS' newly established strategic goals and objectives; and (c) assign accountability for their completion to specific executives; (7) TSI provided offices involved in day-to-day implementation of individual initiatives with on-line access to the central information database it had developed to categorize and monitor progress on the initiatives; (8) IRS could further improve its customer service management strategy; (9) by January 1999, TSI had identified a need for information on milestones and completion dates for each primary initiative and asked offices implementing individual initiatives to input this information into its database; (10) however, TSI had not assessed the need for information on: (a) expected costs and benefits; and (b) performance measures; (11) managers in a few of the offices implementing initiatives GAO reviewed had documented all these types of information on their own, but this information was not being used by IRS' leadership; (12) as past GAO reports have shown, not only do high-performing, results-oriented organizations set priorities, align activities with mission-related goals and objectives, and assign accountability, but they also develop and use information to monitor progress and evaluate results; (13) information on costs, benefits, milestones and completion dates, and performance measures is critical to successfully managing for results; (14) although it can be difficult to develop, this information provides agencies with tools they can use to monitor and evaluate how efficiently and effectively programs are achieving their purposes; and (15) it is important to help determine whether public resources have been used to achieve the purposes for which they were appropriated.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2000, IRS officials provided data showing the steps IRS is taking to use cost and benefit information to make better up-front decisions regarding program initiatives and to measure future results. IRS now requires a decision document for all proposed new initiatives. Information is collected to assess programmatic impact (benefits) and identify funding availability (costs). Additionally, IRS is establishing a new methodology that will use information on benefits and costs in determining the level of priority given for all initiatives stemming from Treasury Inspector General of Tax Administration (TIGTA) and GAO recommendations/corrective actions.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should develop an approach and provide guidance to managers for determining the appropriate cost and benefit information for the customer service initiatives and for measuring the results of the initiatives in relation to IRS' customer service objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2000, IRS officials provided information regarding steps IRS had taken to address this recommendation. As noted above, IRS now requires that a decision document be completed for all new initiatives and other initiatives stemming from TIGTA and GAO recommendations. IRS is also requiring that all initiatives be prioritized before implementation. As a result, IRS has issued new guidance on prioritization. The guidance, which references cost and benefit information, is being used to create a template for improvement project plans, and is being used by project teams, leadership and other stakeholders to drive decisions in the strategic planning and budgeting process.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should enhance the TSI database to include management information for the use of IRS' project teams, leadership, and other stakeholders.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

 

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