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IRS Praised For 2016 Tax Filing Season Performance

by Mike Godfrey,, Washington

11 July 2016

The mid-year report to the US Congress from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, released on July 7, said that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) delivered a generally successful 2016 filing season, but also identified priority issues for next fiscal year.

Olson reported that the IRS answered 73 percent of taxpayer telephone calls with an average wait time of 11 minutes, nearly doubling calls answered and reducing wait times by half from the previous filing season. This improvement was attributed both to additional funding provided by Congress and to effective use of that funding by the IRS.

However, she found that there are some key customer service areas where the IRS is not meeting taxpayer needs. The IRS plans to eliminate walk-in service at all 376 Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) and will require advance appointments; and the IRS's Taxpayer Protection Program, which aims to block identity-theft returns, had a false-positive rate of more than 36 percent in 2015, stopping more than 760,000 returns filed by legitimate taxpayers and causing refund delays and administrative hassles.

In addition, the IRS has ended an online program through which taxpayers could submit tax-law questions and receive responses via email, eliminating an important service channel for the nearly nine million US citizens living abroad; and the agency continues restrictions on answering tax-law questions during filing season and answers none after filing season on phones and in TACs.

Olson pointed out that, for the last two years, the IRS has been developing its "Future State" plan that envisions how the agency will operate in five years and beyond. A central component of the plan is the development of online taxpayer accounts.

In the National Taxpayer Advocate's 2015 Annual Report to Congress, Olson had expressed concern that the IRS's intent in developing online accounts is largely to save money in light of recent budget cuts by reducing telephone and face-to-face assistance, and many taxpayers will not conduct business with the IRS through online accounts because they lack internet access or skills, cannot complete the authentication process required to set up an account, do not trust the security of the IRS system, or would prefer to speak with an IRS employee.

As a result, she expressed concern that critical taxpayer needs may go unmet under the IRS's plans, and has now confirmed that she continues "to be concerned that the IRS's design for the Future State ignores or dismisses the significant body of data that shows large portions of the taxpaying public is either unable or unwilling to engage with government online services for anything other than the most routine tasks, if those."

TAGS: compliance | tax | business | tax compliance | budget | Internal Revenue Service (IRS) | tax authority | internet | United States | individual income tax | services | Tax

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