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MSP #5: TAXPAYER ACCESS TO ONLINE ACCOUNT SYSTEM

As the IRS Develops an Online Account System, It May Do Less to Address the Service Needs of Taxpayers Who Wish to Speak with an IRS Employee Due to Preference or Lack of Internet Access or Who Have Issues That Are Not Conducive to Resolution Online

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses

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1.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #5-1

Conduct a biennial nationwide survey of taxpayers to identify trends and determine the types of transactions or other activities taxpayers would be willing to conduct with the IRS digitally. The survey should include oversamples of low income, Spanish-speaking, and small business taxpayers to ensure that the IRS tracks their needs.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Recommendation not Adopted as Written, but IRS Actions Take to Address Issue Raised by NTA. The IRS will continue to study the taxpayer base to identify taxpayer preferences and ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The Taxpayer Choice Models in English and Spanish informs the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and to gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes. The current Web-First channel migration conjoint study continues this work.

For taxpayers likely to use the online services, this research will help us identify activities and types of transactions or interactions the taxpayers will be willing to conduct with the IRS. Where applicable, our research includes samples of low income, Spanish-speaking, and small business taxpayers to ensure that their needs are considered.

Update: The IRS will continue to study the taxpayer base to identify taxpayer preferences and ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The IRS has conducted a series of conjoint surveys to create Taxpayer Choice Models (TCM) that provide information about the types of transactions and activities taxpayers would be willing to conduct with the IRS digitally by demographic segment. One TCM contains data about Spanish-speaking taxpayers’ preference for various Spanish services. We completed the Web-First Conjoint TCM September 30, 2016. It contains an oversample of TAC users. Refer to the attached PowerPoint titled, Facilitating Access to Convenient & Efficient IRS Service: W&I Web-First Conjoint Study.

In addition, IRS conducts other surveys to answer questions about taxpayer service channel uses and potential future use, such as the annual Taxpayer Experience Survey. Where applicable, our research includes samples of low income, Spanish-speaking, and small business taxpayers to ensure that their needs are considered.

The IRS also uses external data to identify overall digital trends for the total population and specific demographics, such as low-income and Spanish-speaking taxpayers.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS will continue to study the taxpayer base to identify taxpayer preferences and ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The Taxpayer Choice Models in English and Spanish informs the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and to gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes. The current Web-First channel migration conjoint study continues this work.

For taxpayers likely to use the online services, this research will help us identify activities and types of transactions or interactions the taxpayers will be willing to conduct with the IRS. Where applicable, our research includes samples of low income, Spanish-speaking, and small business taxpayers to ensure that their needs are considered.

TAS RESPONSE: In its response, the IRS expressed an unwillingness to conduct a biennial survey to support the Services Priorities Project — that is, to find out what service channels the taxpayers really need or prefer. Instead it is going to conduct surveys of already on-line taxpayers to determine what web services they want. More importantly, the IRS’s response indicates that IRS’s plans to primarily focus on online services in the future state — contrary to evidence from Pew Research Center, Forrester Research, NerdWallet, and the Federal Reserve, as discussed in the National Taxpayer Advocate public forums.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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2.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #5-2

Conduct research to identify the taxpayer base who will utilize the online taxpayer account system as well as other online service offerings. For those taxpayers likely to use the online services, the research should break it down by specific types of transaction or interaction with the IRS. Further, if a taxpayer has indicated that he or she will not use the program, the research should address the reasons for not using the program.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Moving into the future, the IRS will continue to study taxpayer preferences to ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The Taxpayer Choice Models, developed through conjoint surveys with taxpayers, will inform the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and to gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes.

For taxpayers likely to use the online services, this research should help us identify specific types of transactions or interactions the taxpayers would like to have available. The research will also inform the Service of reasons taxpayers choose not to use online services.

Update: The IRS has conducted a series of conjoint surveys to create Taxpayer Choice Models to inform the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes by the type of transcription or interaction with the IRS. The Web-First Taxpayer Choice Model was completed on September 30, 2016 and provides information about taxpayer preference for four service interactions. Results can be broken down into demographics to determine differences in preference by demographic segments. We completed the Web-First Conjoint TCM September 30, 2016.

The Taxpayer Experience Survey, conducted annually, provides information about taxpayer service channel use and potential future use by type of interaction. In addition, the IRS gathers information from taxpayers who indicate they did not or would not use online service as well as about their reasons for not using online service.

IRS conducts other research that provides information about why taxpayers choose specific channels over others. We use external research to inform the Service of current trends in use of online services in comparable fields, such as banking or the financial industry.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: Moving into the future, the IRS will continue to study taxpayer preferences to ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The Taxpayer Choice Models, developed through conjoint surveys with taxpayers, will inform the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and to gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes.

For taxpayers likely to use the online services, this research should help us identify specific types of transactions or interactions the taxpayers would like to have available. The research will also inform the Service of reasons taxpayers choose not to use online services.

TAS RESPONSE: Moving into the future, the IRS will continue to study taxpayer preferences to ensure continued access to the services that will allow taxpayers to meet their tax needs. The Taxpayer Choice Models, developed through conjoint surveys with taxpayers, will inform the IRS about taxpayer service channel preferences for current service offerings and to gauge taxpayer reactions to service channel changes.

For taxpayers likely to use the online services, this research should help us identify specific types of transactions or interactions the taxpayers would like to have available. The research will also inform the Service of reasons taxpayers choose not to use online services.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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3.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #5-3

Incorporate into the CONOPS, budget initiatives, and in the strategic plan a recognition and plan for meeting the service needs of those taxpayers who are not likely to use online service offerings. Such plan should take into account the reasons for the taxpayer’s behavior and potentially tailor the personal services to meet those needs.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: NTA Recommendation Not Adopted as Written, however IRS Actions Taken to Address Issues Raised by NTA. We fully recognize that not all taxpayers will wish, or have the means, to use online services. The IRS will continue to offer service by traditional channels including telephone, correspondence, and face-to-face interactions. These channels will continue to be included as a part of our future state and strategic initiatives as well as our budget requests.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: TAS is pleased the IRS recognizes the importance of continued support of “traditional” service channels. We encourage the IRS to explore ways to improve the service levels on those channels and to not view them as second-best services.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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4.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #5-4

Research taxpayer response to the necessary online account system cybersecurity and authentication measures to determine the percentage of taxpayers who decide the necessary barriers to entry are too burdensome and avoid online account access as a result.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Secure Access will launch new tools that will provide a wealth of data with regard to the product’s usability. Data collected will point to customer pain points and provide indicators regarding how the product can be improved to widen usability while balancing the persistent need for security. Google Analytics on the eAuthentication pages will identify potential barriers in each step of the process and enable the IRS to further assess options. The IRS will use this data to adjust the authentication experience in ways that reduce burden while ensuring the secure protection of taxpayer data.

Update: Secure Access was launched June 7, 2016, to the public and it includes new tools that provide a wealth of data with regard to the product’s usability. Data collected shows customer pain points and provides indicators regarding how the product can be improved to widen usability while balancing the persistent need for security. Google Analytics on the e-Authentication pages identify potential barriers in each step of the process and enable the IRS to further assess options. In addition, TIN-specific analyses provide unique taxpayer experience. The IRS uses these data sets to increase coverage to reduce burden while ensuring the secure protection of taxpayer data. IRS believes that it is noteworthy to mention that our efforts are not solely focused on use of our own data we engage with other agencies to understand their practices, emerging innovations, etc.

Understanding that a process can be improved, the IAO has launched an A3 (authentication, authorization and access) Data Strategy which will provide greater insight into the customer experience and business performance metrics for Secure Access so that further improvements to the application can be made, assuming appropriate funding.

Update: The W&I Division collaborated with the Pacific Consulting Group (PCG) to design and prepare the 2016 Taxpayer Experience Survey. A dual mode survey was used to ensure the survey results were projectable to the entire adult U.S. taxpaying population. The survey consisted of 3,689 individuals. The survey results showed that while 46% to 56% of respondents are likely to use an online account depending on the task, only 29% of the participants were comfortable giving the IRS financial information and 44% giving a cell phone number for identity proofing. Based upon staffing resources and overall program funding, the IRS will continue to improve the Secure Access e-Authentication application to reflect taxpayer interests.

In addition to conducting taxpayer research, IRS performs real-time analytics to increase and enhance taxpayers’ Secure Access and online experiences. Secure Access launched on June 7, 2016, to the public and included new tools that provide a wealth of data with regard to the product’s usability. Data collected shows customer pain points and provides indicators regarding how the product can be improved to expand usability while balancing the persistent need for security. Google Analytics on the e-Authentication pages identifies potential barriers in each step of the process by target application and enables the IRS to further assess options. Weekly, IRS researches error rates that cause taxpayers to fall out of the process. These errors are continually monitored and, as resources allow, IT fixes or usability improvements (i.e., screen updates that do not require IT programming resources) are implemented to lower these rates. In addition, TIN-specific analyses provide unique taxpayer experiences along with examining demographics. The IRS continues conversations with Secure Access third party vendors to monitor performance analytics and make appropriate changes as needed. The IRS uses these data sets to increase coverage to reduce burden while ensuring the secure protection of taxpayer data. IRS believes that it is noteworthy to mention that our efforts are not solely focused on use of our own data; we engage with other agencies to understand their practices, emerging innovations, etc. To improve processes, the Identity Assurance Office (IAO) developed a Secure Access Data Strategy with IRS stakeholders that provides a future state vision for increased insight into the customer experience while identifying business performance metrics opportunities for Secure Access so that further improvements to the application can be made, assuming appropriate funding. The IRS continues to research and conduct innovation studies to increase user coverage for Secure Access. The new capabilities will help increase coverage for good taxpayers while blocking fraudulent activity. The IRS is continually looking at data in regards to the usability of the tools and will always have some activity to make improvements.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: Secure Access will launch new tools that will provide a wealth of data with regard to the product’s usability. Data collected will point to customer pain points and provide indicators regarding how the product can be improved to widen usability while balancing the persistent need for security. Google Analytics on the eAuthentication pages will identify potential barriers in each step of the process and enable the IRS to further assess options. The IRS will use this data to adjust the authentication experience in ways that reduce burden while ensuring the secure protection of taxpayer data.

Update: Secure Access was launched June 7, 2016, to the public and it includes new tools that provide a wealth of data with regard to the product’s usability. Data collected shows customer pain points and provides indicators regarding how the product can be improved to widen usability while balancing the persistent need for security. Google Analytics on the e-Authentication pages identify potential barriers in each step of the process and enable the IRS to further assess options. In addition, TIN –specific analyses provide unique taxpayer experience. The IRS uses these data sets to increase coverage to reduce burden while ensuring the secure protection of taxpayer data. IRS believes that it is noteworthy to mention that our efforts are not solely focused on use of our own data we engage with other agencies to understand their practices, emerging innovations, etc. Understanding that a process can be improved, the IAO has launched an A3 (authentication, authorization and access) Data Strategy which will provide greater insight into the customer experience and business performance metrics for Secure Access so that further improvements to the application can be made, assuming appropriate funding. 

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate supports the IRS’s efforts to implement state of the art e-authentication measures to access the online applications. However, these necessary precautions will serve as a barrier to entry for significant portions of the population. The delicate balance between security and access means that a significant majority of taxpayers will continue to use “traditional” service channels. Accordingly, the IRS must devote sufficient resources to these channels to meet taxpayer demand and attain acceptable levels of service. This will ensure that all taxpayers have access to IRS services in order to comply with the tax laws.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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