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MSP #1: Tax Law Questions

The IRS’s Failure to Answer the Right Tax Law Questions at the Right Time Harms Taxpayers, Erodes Taxpayer Rights, and Undermines Confidence in the IRS

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses

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1.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-1

Answer in-scope tax law questions year-round.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Tax law assistance is provided on the telephone year-round for several subject areas, including Affordable Care Act, International, Tax-Exempt/Government Entities, Business Master File (Employment Tax), and Special Services (Disaster, Combat Zone, etc.).  The IRS will also continue  to answer in-scope tax law calls related to Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA) after the conclusion of the filing season. The IRS agrees to study the feasibility of providing year-round assistance through telephone and TAC service channels for all in-scope tax law  topics.

The IRS also provides guidance to taxpayers through IRS.gov, including access to numerous Publications, Tax Topics, Frequently Asked Questions, Tax Trails, and the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) application.

In 2014, due to limited resources and declining demand, the IRS enacted a new practice that Customer Service Representatives (CSR) would answer basic domestic tax law questions between January and April only, with some exceptions. Our analysis revealed that more than 90% of taxpayers were using online and/or software services to file their tax returns and, most taxpayers during the filing season only need answers to basic tax law questions such as filing status, dependents, exemptions, Earned Income Tax Credit, deductions and taxable income.

After the passage for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the IRS decided to answer domestic tax law questions year-round for 2018 and 2019. However, we believe restoring tax law questions as in-scope year-round is in keeping with the spirit of the Taxpayer First Act and with our efforts to improve the customer experience. As of October 1, 2019, we will permanently restore our policy on answering in-scope tax law questions throughout the year.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: Tax law assistance is provided on the telephone year-round for several subject areas, including Affordable Care Act, International, Tax-Exempt/Government Entities, Business Master File (Employment Tax), and Special Services (Disaster, Combat Zone, etc.). The IRS will also continue to answer in-scope tax law calls related to Tax Cuts and Job Act (TCJA) after the conclusion of the filing season. The IRS agrees to study the feasibility of providing year-round assistance through telephone and TAC service channels for all in-scope tax law topics.

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is pleased the IRS will study the feasibility of returning to the previous practice of answering in-scope tax law questions year-round on the phones. In 2018, more than 17 million individual income tax returns were filed after the April 18 filing deadline. Taxpayers require assistance with tax law questions year-round, and it is important for the IRS to provide it to meet taxpayer needs.

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 #1-2

Deem all questions related to the new tax law as in-scope for a reasonable period of at least two years and evaluate taxpayer demand prior to declaring topics out of scope.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​Each year we identify a number of new tax law topics as in scope and provide training to our telephone and face-to-face assistors. In attempting to serve as many taxpayers as possible with our limited resources, we are not able to include every tax topic as in-scope and still offer the variety of account-related services sought by our taxpayers.

We do offer other alternatives for obtaining information on topics that are not in-scope. Currently, the IRS provides tax law guidance year-round to taxpayers through a variety of applications and tools on IRS.gov. Taxpayers can find tax law information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at IRS.gov, where numerous Publications, Tax Topics, Frequently Asked Questions, and Tax Trails are located. Many taxpayers are also able to find answers to common tax law questions while using guided tax software when self-preparing their return.

We continue to analyze our telephone and face-to-face demand and staffing needs to improve our service to taxpayers. We will continue to seek input in determining topics to provide as in scope as well as to review the development of ITA topics.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocates understands that declaring all tax law questions in-scope at all times may not be practical in light of its existing resources. However, this recommendation is narrowly focused on topics related to the TCJA. The National Taxpayer Advocate urges the IRS to consider all TCJA questions in-scope for at least two years and to evaluate topic demand before declaring any TCJA topics out of scope.

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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3.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #1-3

Track calls and contacts about out-of-scope topics and develop ITLA scripts for frequently asked questions or consider declaring topics in-scope

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​The Interactive Tax Law Assistant (ITLA) is an internal tool used by assistors to answer tax law questions while the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) is a similar tax law tool for use by taxpayers on IRS.gov.  In developing ITA topics, we do look at factors such as the volume of taxpayer inquiries   for a tax law topic and new topics resulting from tax law changes, including those topics deemed critical.

We agree on the importance of reviewing taxpayer contacts to determine the best approach for identifying in-scope Tax Topics and scripts for Frequently Asked Questions. We will analyze and collect data on out-of-scope topics to look for opportunities in determining in-scope and out-of- scope topics as  appropriate.

9/30/2019 Update: Due to the government shutdown and implementation of TCJA, we were unable to initiate a Contact Analytics (CA) search in time for the start of the filing season.  As tax law call volumes are typically highest during the filing season, any efforts after filing season would not provide the needed data regarding the out-of-scope topics.  We are currently working to establish a recurring CA search targeting out-of-scope tax law calls for FY 2020.

10/22/2020 Update: We continue to generate weekly reports through Contact Analytics to identify calls for out-of-scope topics. Cumulative totals for the different topics are maintained in the weekly reports. For FY20, none of the topics recurred with enough frequency to warrant the additional programming resources to update ITA/ITLA. We continually monitor taxpayer contacts to identify any new topics for inclusion.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: We will analyze and collect data on out-of-scope topics to look for opportunities in determining in-scope and out-of- scope topics as appropriate.

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is pleased the IRS will implement this recommendation and looks forward to reviewing the results of the data collection.

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 #1-4

Develop a method to respond to uncommon or complex questions (i.e., those that are out-of-scope for the phones and TACs) via email or call back to the taxpayer, utilizing artificial intelligence and pattern-recognition technology and regularly publish these answers online for the general public.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​The IRS agrees to study the feasibility of using Artificial Intelligence to assist in resolving inquiries,  as this aligns with our Customer Experience Vision and Service Delivery Plan designed to provide  our customers the best possible service within limited resources. The IRS will continue to provide guidance to taxpayers through a variety of other channels year-round, including on  IRS.gov.

The IRS is exploring the use of Artificial Intelligence to assist in navigating customers to the most effective resource.  This could include identifying the customers’ specific issue and provide them with the appropriate resources to resolve their inquiry.  Artificial Intelligence was recently identified as a future capability in the overall broader Customer Experience/Service Delivery plan.  IRS will explore the possibilities of this technology and identify the appropriate applications for this technology.  A specific development date has not yet been identified.

Update: The IRS is exploring integration of Natural Language technology on our toll-free lines. The initial FY 2021 pilot, pending funding, will focus on providing general information for the Economic Impact Payment (EIP) line. Natural Language uses Advanced Speech Recognition (ASR), along with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to accurately understand the customer needs based on natural spoken words. These applications will be mapped to pre-defined answers adapted from the IRS’ EIP FAQ website to provide self-service.  Efforts are underway currently to refine the EIP FAQs to make them conversational, determine call flows for routing and scripting, and establish appropriate reporting measurements for this type of service. The Natural Language capabilities will be explored further when the project is approved and funded.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is exploring integration of Natural Language technology on our toll-free lines. The initial FY 2021 pilot, pending funding, will focus on providing general information for the Economic Impact Payment (EIP) line. Natural Language uses Advanced Speech Recognition (ASR), along with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to accurately understand the customer needs based on natural spoken words. These applications will be mapped to pre-defined answers adapted from the IRS’ EIP FAQ website to provide self-service.  Efforts are underway currently to refine the EIP FAQs to make them conversational, determine call flows for routing and scripting, and establish appropriate reporting measurements for this type of service. The Natural Language capabilities will be explored further when the project is approved and funded.

Update: The IRS has explored the use of Artificial Intelligence, most recently using it to assist with questions related to the Economic Impact Payment (EIP). The JOC PMO is currently prioritizing Enterprise topics for future implementation to include Tax Law. In addition, the IRS has multiple tax law topics available through its Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) at IRS.GOV.

TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is pleased that the IRS will research the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence to assist in answering taxpayer questions. She looks forward to the results of this study.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 

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