IRS's 2002 Tax Filing Season:

Returns and Refunds Processed Smoothly; Quality of Assistance Improved

GAO-03-314: Published: Dec 20, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 2002.

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The tax filing season is when millions of taxpayers file their returns and seek assistance by calling or visiting IRS's offices or Web site. Because of the large number of returns and critical nature of IRS's filing season activities, GAO was asked to assess IRS's 2002 filing season performance in processing tax returns and refunds and providing timely and accurate assistance to taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) processed returns and issued refunds smoothly and the quality of assistance provided to taxpayers improved in the 2002 filing season. In light of this, IRS should be commended for the various efforts it took to prepare for the 2002 filing season and improve performance. Still, opportunities exist for IRS to further improve aspects of its performance and some of its performance measures. In 2002, IRS's performance included issuing almost all refunds on time, providing more accurate telephone service than in 2001, and meeting many of its 2002 performance goals in all areas. IRS also began measuring the accuracy of assistance at its walk-in sites to obtain better performance data. In addition, IRS's redesigned Web site was easier to access and more user friendly. IRS's improved performance can be traced to its use of performance measures, which are part of its strategy to improve returns processing and taxpayer assistance as shown below. However, GAO identified opportunities for IRS to make further improvements. For example, IRS's suite of telephone measures lacks an indicator of how long callers wait to speak to an assistor--a key aspect of assistance that provides useful information for decision making by external stakeholders. Although not a primary focus of this report, GAO also found that IRS lacked comprehensive plans related to the extent and timing of anticipated workload and staffing changes at its walk-in sites.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to explore the feasibility of including all walk-in sites, rather than just sites equipped with Q-Matic, in the universe for the purpose of conducting sample visits/reviews of the accuracy of account assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS has taken actions to correct its method of collecting data for its account accuracy measure. First, IRS has deployed Q-Matic at all of its walk-in sites in time for the 2006 filing season, making data available to IRS management nationally. With Q-Matic fully deployed, IRS will have all sites available for its sampling and reviews. Additionally, IRS is continuing its deployment of contact recording as a method of measuring accuracy of account assistance at walk-in sites. According to IRS officials, contact recording enables IRS to standardize its employee evaluation and quality assessment processes, establish baselines, and reliably assess the accuracy of account service at its walk-in sites. As a result, IRS and the Congress is getting better information and a better understanding of the quality of service IRS is providing at walk-in sites.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to revise bi-weekly wait-time reports to show the numbers and percentages of customers in each of the wait-time intervals tracked by Q-Matic.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS changed its reports on taxpayers waiting for assistance at its Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) in time for the 2006 filing season. Wait-time reports for Field Assistance program managers now show the numbers and percentages of customers in the different intervals tracked by Q-Matic (the Service's traffic management and reporting system for TACs): no wait, 1-30 minutes, 31-45 minutes, 46-60 minutes, 61-90 minutes, and greater than 90 minutes. Additionally, these reports show wait-time intervals by category of assistance (forms, returns, tax law, etc.). During the 2006 filing season, program managers received these detailed wait-time reports every week. Additionally, managers at more TACs now have access to detailed wait-time information through Q-matic's wider implementation. At the time of this audit, nearly 300 sites did not have Q-Matic, and could only monitor wait-times manually. Since this review, the IRS has acted to equip all 400 of its TACs with some version of Q-Matic. At the 224 sites now equipped with full Q-Matic, TAC managers can access real-time information on number of taxpayers waiting, what services these taxpayers are waiting for, and how long they have actually been waiting. Managers have expressed that this capability helps them identify and minimize excessive wait-times by re-allocating resources as needed. During the 2006 filling season, the 224 sites (56%) equipped with full Q-Matic handled 81% of all traffic at walk-in sites.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to reinstate a telephone assistance caller wait-time measure, such as assistor response level or average speed of answer, to assess this important aspect of the customer experience.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS discontinued its telephone assistance caller wait-time measure. We recommended that IRS reinstate a telephone assistance caller wait-time measure, such as assister response level or average speed of answer, to assess this important aspect of the customer experience. As a result of our recommendation, IRS added the Enterprise Average Speed of Answer (ASA) to its balanced measures in the FY 2004-2005 Strategy and Program Plan, and began reporting on ASA during the 2004 Filing Season. The impact resulting from this action is that IRS and others are now able to evaluate and assess IRS's performance on this important aspect of the customer experience.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should direct the appropriate officials to ensure that field assistance officials do a comprehensive evaluation of resource requirements (sites and staffing) after clarifying the extent and timing of (1) expected field assistance and compliance workloads and (2) expected walk-in site changes (additions and closures).

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury: Internal Revenue Service

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: IRS agreed with our recommendation, and has since addressed these concerns. According to IRS officials, after analyzing the challenges associated with conducting compliance work, while also providing high quality taxpayer assistance, IRS decided that walk-in site staff would no longer perform compliance work after fiscal year 2007. With the completion of the Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint in April 2007, which is IRS's plan for improving taxpayer service, IRS established a set of criteria that it will use to evaluate staffing needs and make future decisions regarding walk-in site locations. As a result, in addition to a better focus on service delivery at walk-in sites, IRS should have more reliable and comprehensive information upon which to evaluate its field assistance staff workloads and walk-in site locations so that it can maintain an adequate level of assistance at all walk-in sites.

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