The 1995 Tax Filing Season:

IRS Performance Indicators Provide Incomplete Information About Some Problems

GGD-96-48: Published: Dec 29, 1995. Publicly Released: Dec 29, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) performance during the 1995 tax filing season, focusing on the: (1) processing of individual income tax returns and refunds; (2) ability of taxpayers to reach IRS by telephone; and (3) new IRS computer system for processing returns.

GAO found that: (1) IRS delayed about 7 million refunds for up to 8 weeks because of systematic checks for questionable refund claims; (2) IRS delayed refunds on returns with missing or invalid social security numbers (SSN) to identify duplicate uses of the same SSN and fraud schemes; (3) IRS could have alleviated negative publicity about the delays had it better forewarned taxpayers about the potential for delays; (4) although IRS answered 11 percent more calls from taxpayers in the 1995 filing season, the chance of reaching an IRS assistor was not very good; (5) various IRS processing and accessibility goals mask problems in its actual performance; and (6) IRS experienced numerous problems with its electronic image computer system, including extensive downtime and slow processing rates.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: There was no need for IRS to take any action because it revised its procedures for delaying refunds in 1996 so that refunds associated with validly filed returns were generally not affected.

    Recommendation: If IRS plans to continue validating SSN and delaying refunds in 1996, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should adjust its methodology for assessing refund timeliness to include delayed refunds associated with validly filed returns.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has began using a measure called level of access that is computed by dividing the number of calls answered by the number of callers. IRS now includes that measure among its key indicators.

    Recommendation: After IRS develops a measure of taxpayer assistance accessibility that focuses on the number of incoming calls and/or the number of taxpayers calling for assistance, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue should include that measure among its key filing season performance indicators.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service


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