Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Online Taxpayer Services (2014-17)
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General Government: Online Taxpayer Services (2014-17)

The Internal Revenue Service could potentially realize hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and increased revenues by enhancing its online services, which would improve service to taxpayers and encourage greater tax law compliance.

Action:

The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should direct appropriate officials to develop a long-term strategy to improve web services provided to taxpayers, in accordance with Howto.gov and other federal guidance outlined in GAO's April 2013 report. To accomplish this, IRS should develop business cases for all new online services, describing the potential benefits and costs of the project, and use them to prioritize future projects.

Progress:

As of December 2019, IRS has made meaningful progress in improving its online services strategy, as recommended in GAO's December 2011 and April 2013 reports. In April 2019, IRS published the IRS Integrated Modernization Business Plan (modernization plan). The modernization plan is intended to be a six-year roadmap to guide IRS’s efforts and one of the plan’s goals is to modernize the taxpayer experience.

In the plan, IRS committed to developing new services, provided that IRS continues to receive the requested resources from Congress. These services include delivering taxpayer notices electronically, modernizing online installment agreements, and establishing multiple  communication methods, such as text chat and video chat assistance.. A companion document to this plan provides additional detail, including an estimated budget for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 for improving taxpayer services, timeframes for developing these capabilities, and anticipated benefits such as increasing the number of notices available electronically.

IRS provided additional documentation of its prioritization process for new online services that considers risks, costs, timelines and the scope of proposed projects, among other things.  These materials will help govern IRS’s long-term decision-making related to its online services strategy.

GAO believes the modernization plan and the prioritization process address the intent of the recommendations made in the 2013 report. However, in December 2019 GAO found that the prioritization process did not consider taxpayer input when making resource decisions, which GAO will continue to follow up on as part of ongoing work. A long-term comprehensive strategy for online services will help IRS ensure that it is maximizing the benefit to taxpayers and its investment in web services provided to taxpayers.

Implementing Entity:

Internal Revenue Service

Action:

The Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should direct appropriate officials to study leading practices of other organizations to understand how web improvement strategies were developed and new services prioritized.

Progress:

IRS conducted a study of industry best practices of other organizations’ websites, consistent with GAO’s April 2013 recommendation. Learning from other organizations about their strategy for providing online services could help IRS prioritize future projects by identifying which tools are providing users with the most benefit.

Implementing Entity:

Internal Revenue Service

Action:

The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should direct appropriate officials to develop business cases for all new online services, describing the potential benefits and costs of the project, and use them to prioritize future projects.

Progress:

This action has been combined with action 1 in Online Taxpayer Services to more accurately reflect the intent of the original recommendation, which suggested that business cases be developed as part of the long-term strategy to improve web services.

Implementing Entity:

Internal Revenue Service

Action:

The Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should direct appropriate officials to review risk mitigation plans for interactive tools to ensure all risks are addressed and link investments in security to the long-term plan.

Progress:

IRS officials have reviewed risk mitigation plans for interactive tools to help ensure that risks have been addressed and that security investments are linked to the long-term plan, as GAO recommended in April 2013. IRS officials stated that they worked closely with stakeholders in the Information Technology office to conduct risk assessments for all web projects containing personally identifiable information, such as a taxpayer’s Social Security number or date of birth. In August 2015, IRS provided GAO with a report outlining its current projects. This report summarizes the risks and mitigation plans needed to assess the cited risks. These actions have improved the reliability of IRS’s processes to help ensure it is addressing identified risks. The Office of Online Services also integrated its future plans for implementing e-authentication—the process of establishing confidence in the taxpayer’s identity electronically over the Internet for electronic government and commerce—into its long-term strategy, known as Service on Demand. The strategy described e-authentication capabilities as foundational efforts that should enable the implementation of other products or services. GAO reviewed IRS’s Services on Demand plan in August 2015 and agreed that it links the investments made in security, including for the e-authentication capabilities and other taxpayer communication channels. Linking the security investments to the plan helps to ensure that activities, core processes, and resources are aligned to support the mission of providing better service to taxpayers and delivering this service more efficiently.

Implementing Entity:

Internal Revenue Service
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