IRS Telephone Assistance:

Limited Progress and Missed Opportunities to Analyze Performance in the 2001 Filing Season

GAO-02-212: Published: Dec 7, 2001. Publicly Released: Dec 26, 2001.

Additional Materials:


James R. White
(202) 512-5594


Office of Public Affairs
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Congress has long been concerned about the quality of service that taxpayers receive when calling the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for help in understanding and meeting their tax obligations. IRS has taken steps to improve its responsiveness to the tens of millions of telephone calls it receives each year, from expanding the hours of service to increasing the use of automation. In the 2000 tax filing season, the quality of telephone assistance was mixed and below IRS' long-term goal of providing world-class service. Overall, IRS made limited progress toward its goal of providing world-class telephone service. When compared with the 2000 tax filing season, access and accuracy in 2001 improved in two of six comparable measures, declined in one, and changed two percentage points or less in the others. IRS fell considerably short of its target to reduce the time that taxpayers spend waiting to speak with an assistor. Although assistors exceeded quality-of-service targets when responding to taxpayer questions, they did not meet higher targets for providing correct answers and account adjustments. IRS officials missed opportunities to analyze data to better understand the factors affecting telephone performance, including the actions it took to improve performance. IRS managers sometimes reached conclusions about key factors without conducting analyses to test their conclusions. IRS officials also missed opportunities to plan evaluations to determine the effectiveness of the actions taken to improve access and accuracy.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We reported that IRS sometimes missed opportunities to conduct analyses to help managers understand the reasons for telephone performance and evaluate actions taken to improve performance. These missed opportunities resulted in IRS making limited progress in the 2001 tax filing season toward its long-term goal of providing world-class customer service. IRS took a number of actions to implement our recommendation, all of which were finalized and in place by March 2002. IRS now uses real-time data to analyze all facets of its telephone system performance daily. In addition, IRS field directors and managers are more involved in the evaluation of call site operational performance. Finally, IRS included a requirement for continued performance analyses in its Wage & Investment Strategic Assessment, which is intended to improve and enhance analyses of mission critical work processes, planned improvements and targeted projects.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner should ensure that managers follow IRS guidance on analyzing the factors that affect performance and evaluating improvement actions. Specifically, (1) field directors should be required to develop and follow written plans to collect and analyze data to test their conclusions about the key local factors affecting performance and, when appropriate, evaluate local improvement actions, such as actions involving training; (2) field directors should include in filing season readiness plans a step to ensure that site managers have plans to evaluate the effectiveness of any improvement actions; and (3) program managers and other appropriate national officials should be required to develop and follow written plans to evaluate the effectiveness of key national improvement actions, such as the Accounts Resolution Guide.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service


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