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MSP #12: ACCESS TO THE IRS

Taxpayers Are Unable to Navigate the IRS and Reach the Right Person to Resolve Their Tax Issues

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses

1
1.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #12-1

Provide an option for taxpayers calling the local TAC lines to speak to a live person or be transferred to another part of the IRS.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Local TAC offices  are staffed to provide face-to-face assistance to taxpayers. When TAC employees answer telephone lines they are not available to assist customers already waiting in the TAC. IRS provides toll-free lines for taxpayers to resolve issues on the telephone.  During Filing Season 2015, IRS will test serving taxpayers by appointments in 44 TACs. Two appointment scheduling approaches will be explored during the test. One approach will use Customer Service Representatives to schedule appointments during calls made to a dedicated toll-free line. Another approach will be to use TAC personnel to schedule appointments from messages left on the 3709 line, local email, and/or walk-in appointment (generally not the same day). After the test concludes, IRS will determine if the 3709 line should be the intake vehicle for any TAC appointments.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is pleased the IRS is exploring new options that may allow taxpayers to call the IRS to make an appointment at a local TAC.  Establishing a dedicated toll-free line for taxpayers to make appointments at all TACs, including a functionality for taxpayers to talk to a live person, receive a call back, or be transferred to another part of the IRS on these lines, will achieve  the purpose of this recommendation.  This will help all taxpayers, especially the elderly and disabled, more easily reach someone at the IRS or make an appointment at a local TAC.  Without the transfer option on this line, the dedicated toll-free line would fall short of the National Taxpayer Advocate’s recommendation.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A

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2.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #12-2

Provide a phone line for elderly or disabled taxpayers to call to make an appointment at a TAC, including messaging and callback service, and establish and publicize timeframes within which callbacks must occur.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The IRS disagrees with this recommendation. However, the IRS is beginning a test in 44 TACs to determine the feasibility of establishing appointments for all taxpayers. Two appointment scheduling approaches will be explored during the test. One approach will use Customer Service Representatives to schedule appointments during calls made to a dedicated toll-free line. Another approach will use TAC personnel to schedule appointments from messages left on the 3709 line, local email, and/or walk-in appointment. While appointments will generally be scheduled in advance, local managers have the discretion to make exceptions. Exceptions can include taxpayers with limited mobility and hardships.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: It is unclear why the IRS disagrees with the recommendation to provide a phone line for the elderly or disabled to make an appointment at a TAC when the IRS is currently providing this service through its TAC appointment pilot program.  Further, to fully carry out the recommendation, the IRS must hold itself accountable by establishing and publishing timeframes for callbacks.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A

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3.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #12-3

Make the IRS Telephone Directory for Practitioners or a similar directory available to the public.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: The telephone directory for practitioners is intended as an additional resource for practitioners representing clients who may be under audit.  Taxpayers who receive IRS correspondence are provided a number for the best place to call to discuss their issue.  Providing access to the telephone directory currently available to practitioners could create confusion and delays in the process should taxpayers contact other IRS employees for information instead of the appropriate point of contact for their case.  Taxpayers with general tax questions can reach the IRS via phone or the internet.  The toll-free 800-829-1040 line is designed to provide individual taxpayers and business owners with tax law and account assistance.  Creating a public telephone directory requires resources to compile the directory and then resources to ensure that the directory is continuously updated.  Under our current budget, this does not represent the best use of our limited resources.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The IRS objects to making the Telephone Directory for Practitioners or a similar directory available to the public based on the potential consequences from taxpayers contacting a person other than the appropriate point of contact for their case.  The IRS fails to appreciate the value of the practitioner directory, which does not provide a list of individual IRS front-line employees, but instead provides a directory of managers and program owners.  This is similar to prevalent practices in the private sector, where for-profit entities routinely list their leadership contact information for the general public to foster transparency and accountability.  Taxpayers could use this directory to contact the managers and program owners to report problems, raise concerns, share success stories, and provide valuable information about the programs they are overseeing.  A good manager should want to know about the issues in the programs he or she oversees.  The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, as well as the National Taxpayer Advocate, regularly receive and answer emails from taxpayers.  If the IRS leadership can do it, then the heads of offices such as Return Integrity and Compliance Services or Submission Processing should follow their example.

The IRS cites the current budget as a roadblock to establishing a public directory, stating it would require resources to compile and update the directory.  In 2008, the National Taxpayer Advocate made similar recommendations for the IRS to create a topical index on IRS.gov that outlines the related tax law and IRS procedures and gives a contact number for the department with the expertise to answer any questions the site fails to resolve; for taxpayers who need personal interaction, she recommended IRS create a phone number system similar to a 311 system.  At that time, when the IRS was operating under a very different budget environment, it also refused to create a directory, stating: “[it] would likely prove unwieldy for taxpayers and a very costly administrative challenge for the IRS to maintain.  Further, current telephone systems cannot support large-scale public access to employees’ personal administrative telephone lines, nor are most non-customer service occupations trained or able to effectively handle any volume of taxpayer calls.”

If the IRS had established an external directory when the National Taxpayer Advocate first recommended it, at a time when it was in a better position to upgrade phone lines and provide basic customer service training, it could not cite “resources” as an excuse now.  The IRS missed an opportunity to support a culture of accountability and responsiveness to the public.  Taxpayers have the right to be informed and the IRS should make publicly available the contact information of IRS program managers.  Further, the National Taxpayer Advocate encourages the IRS to cite data and provide analysis when stating a proposal would not be a good use of funding instead of summarily rejecting recommendations.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A

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4.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #12-4

Institute a system similar to a 311 system where a taxpayer can be transferred by an operator to the specific office within the IRS that handles his or her issue or case.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: IRS has decided to invest its resources in providing other means for taxpayers to get information.  During filing season, IRS uses screeners to direct tax law questions appropriately. Taxpayers who receive IRS correspondence are provided a number for the best place to call to discuss their issue.  IRS also uses automation on the toll-free lines to provide customers with efficient and accurate tax law and account assistance and, where appropriate, connect the taxpayer with an assistor who has the skill sets to provide the necessary service.  Given our limited budget resources, instituting a 311 system at this time is not the best use of our funding.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: Without a telephone directory or a 311 system, taxpayers will continue to face difficulty in finding the right person they need to talk to at the IRS.  The phone numbers on correspondence are not helpful if the taxpayer needs to talk to someone other than the specific office assigned to his or her issue or has an issue with the employee handling his or her case, not to mention a taxpayer may misplace correspondence.  The current confusing system of automated prompts means taxpayers often do not reach the correct office or person, if they reach a person at all.  Given the Commissioner’s recent prediction that the phone level of service for all of FY 2015 would be approximately 40 percent, and the acknowledgment taxpayers may have to wait 30 minutes or more before reaching an assistor,  it is even more important for the IRS to have an efficient system of connecting taxpayers to the right IRS employee or office.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A

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