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MSP #7: DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

Digital Communication Tools Are Too Limited, Making Communication With the IRS Unnecessarily Difficult.

 

TAS Recommendations and IRS Responses

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1.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-1

Prioritize and expand digital communications to expedite the deployment of taxpayer-facing features by three months from the current Taxpayer Experience Roadmap schedule.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​IRS agrees to implement TAS recommendation in part.

​The IRS plans to prioritize and expand digital communications, but its ability to expedite deployments ahead of the Taxpayer Experience Roadmap schedule is limited. The IRS currently offers secure, two-way messaging in several taxpayer-facing areas and has prioritized new areas that would benefit from digital communications for future secure messaging installations. The IRS is currently planning secure messaging integration with tools such as online account, which will offer a new and important avenue through which to engage taxpayers in digital communications, as well as the new electronic case management system, which will enable IRS personnel to conduct communications more efficiently. Those integrations are planned to take place in two phases, by the first quarter of FY23 and third quarter of FY23, respectively. While critical for long-term taxpayer experience improvements, the technical capacity to deliver additional new and expanded secure messaging installations is restricted by limited personnel and funding. Additionally, the IRS is planning to upgrade the platform through which the IRS offers secure messaging because of needed security and functionality enhancements. During the upgrade, new digital communication offerings will necessarily halt, which may affect the IRS’s ability to meet the Taxpayer Experience Roadmap schedule.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is currently planning secure messaging integration with tools such as online account, which will offer a new and important avenue through which to engage taxpayers in digital communications, as well as the new electronic case management system, which will enable IRS personnel to conduct communications more efficiently. Those integrations are planned to take place in two phases, by the first quarter of FY23 and third quarter of FY23, respectively. While critical for long-term taxpayer experience improvements, the technical capacity to deliver additional new and expanded secure messaging installations is restricted by limited personnel and funding. Additionally, the IRS is planning to upgrade the platform through which the IRS offers secure messaging because of needed security and functionality enhancements. During the upgrade, new digital communication offerings will necessarily halt, which may affect the IRS’s ability to meet the Taxpayer Experience Roadmap schedule.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on creating the Taxpayer Experience Roadmap and its planned implementation of new digital communication tools. While we acknowledge that the IRS faces limitations on personnel and funding, the IRS demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is possible to accelerate implementation timelines when the business needs for new technology demand it. Taxpayers need new and upgraded digital communication tools now, and the IRS should continue to seek to accelerate its implementation.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): Ongoing

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2.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-2

Develop expanded transactional data-based metrics to determine if taxpayers are completing transactions successfully when choosing a digital channel for service.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees with TAS recommendation but cannot implement it currently due to funding limitations.

The IRS is continuously adding data sources and improving data quality and analysis techniques. Each IRS digital feature has its own set of metrics that are monitored regularly. As new digital features launch, the IRS includes data collection and conducts analysis for each feature. In 2021, the IRS launched the options for taxpayers to create a short-term playment plan, make a payment, and set their preferences for email notifications or going paperless in Online Account, each with corresponding data collection and metrics. We regularly review data on user success rates, progression through the transactions, and customer satisfaction to identify any pain points or opportunities for improvement.

As directed by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) A-11 Section 280 and the Customer Experience (CX) Executive Order, the IRS has also been adding new CX surveys and updating existing surveys to be compliant with OMB A-11 guidelines. These surveys provide direct taxpayer feedback to view alongside transactional and other operational data. The IRS plans to continue to improve integration and correlation between transactional metrics and CX surveys to provide deeper insights into users’ experience across digital channels.

The IRS also plans to expand access to transactional metrics by training individual business units to create and gain access to certain analytical reports pertaining to secure messaging. This effort will standardize reporting activities and involve the business units more directly with the data. Dependent on funding availability, the IRS may also automate processes to store transactional data in a secure IRS environment that will allow for more reporting automation and scripting of data inquiries, increasing the speed of reporting and allowing for more programmatic analysis of secure messaging case activity.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS plans to continue to improve integration and correlation between transactional metrics and CX surveys to provide deeper insights into users’ experience across digital channels.

The IRS also plans to expand access to transactional metrics by training individual business units to create and gain access to certain analytical reports pertaining to secure messaging. This effort will standardize reporting activities and involve the business units more directly with the data. Dependent on funding availability, the IRS may also automate processes to store transactional data in a secure IRS environment that will allow for more reporting automation and scripting of data inquiries, increasing the speed of reporting and allowing for more programmatic analysis of secure messaging case activity.

TAS RESPONSE: Transactional data metrics provide valuable information on discreet digital features, but as the IRS embraces an omnichannel service strategy, it should also gather data that compares taxpayers’ choices between different service channels.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): Iterative with each new feature.

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3.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-3

Develop new tools that will satisfy the requirements for electronic signatures and secure document exchange by end of FY 2022.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees with TAS recommendation but cannot implement it currently due to funding limitations.

To achieve the Taxpayer Experience Roadmap goals for a full digital experience, the IRS must develop tools and processes that fully support electronic signatures and secure document exchanges. Before the permanent implementation of e-signatures may be deployed, technologies and related protocols for business identity proofing must be perfected and deployed to ensure the person signing electronically and sending secure email for a business is not only identity proofed, but that they also have the authority to act for the business. Although work is under way, it will not be completed by the end of FY 2022 due to competing priorities and resource limitations.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: TAS and the IRS agree that the IRS must develop tools and processes that fully support electronic signatures and secure document exchanges for taxpayers to have a full digital experience. While we acknowledge that the IRS faces limitations on personnel and funding, the IRS demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is possible to accelerate implementation timelines when the business needs for new technology demand it. Establishing a permanent solution that supports electronic signatures and secure document exchanges should be a top priority.

Update: This is a similar recommendation to 2020 #4-2 which is still open and being worked on. The due date on the 2020 recommendation is 12/31/2024 so we are keeping this open and will monitor it in conjunction with 2020 4-2.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 12/31/2024

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4.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-4

Continue to expand DUT service to other functions within the agency to receive correspondence from taxpayers, including issue resolution documentation from taxpayers for math errors by end of FY 2022 and additional correspondence audit, examination, and AUR notices by end of FY 2023.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​The IRS cannot implement this recommendation currently due to funding limitations. ​The Documentation Upload Tool (DUT) service was first deployed into production in March 2021 to support the Automated Questionable Credit program. Since then, the tool has been extended to support more functions, including the Taxpayer Advocate Service, Campus Correspondence Exam, Information Referrals and the Human Capital Office. We are continuing to review, assess, and prioritize new opportunities to expand DUT based on resource and funding availability.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A

TAS RESPONSE: DUT has been a popular choice with taxpayers who have been given the opportunity to use it, and it provides mutual benefits to the IRS and taxpayers. While we acknowledge that the IRS faces limitations on personnel and funding, the IRS demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic that it is possible to accelerate implementation timelines when the business needs for new technology demand it. Expanding DUT to other functions should be a high priority.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 12/31/2023 (Same as 1-7)

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5.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-5

Educate taxpayers about digital options such as TDC SM and permit taxpayers to request access in lieu of the current invite-only strategy by end of Quarter 1, FY 2023.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​IRS ​agrees to implement TAS recommendation in part.

The IRS agrees to continue efforts to educate taxpayers about expanded digital options such as secure messaging, and to allow more taxpayers to participate. For example, taxpayer notices about specific exam functions may include invitations to use secure messaging, as well as high-data volume quick response (QR) codes that make accessing secure messaging more convenient. The IRS plans to increase the percentage of taxpayers receiving invitations to use secure messaging. The IRS educates taxpayers whenever new secure messaging options are introduced, using a variety of means, including within the actual notice or letter, IRS.gov, and pamphlets or flyers, such as Large Business & International’s Publication, 5425, Taxpayer Digital Communications Secure File Sharing – Secure Messaging, which is a flyer providing information on the functionality and how to sign up for Taxpayer Digital Communications Secure File Sharing – Secure Messaging (TDC SFS-SM).

The IRS currently offers secure messaging for certain functions that could allow any eligible taxpayer to engage in those functions using secure messaging rather than traditional channels. However, there are hurdles to offering secure messaging to all taxpayers. Additional programming is required to ensure proper routing and inventory management procedures are in place before the IRS can effectively expand TDC SFS-SM to all taxpayers. This programming is dependent on funding and available resources.

In addition to the above noted programming and funding challenges, the IRS will also need to engage with the National Treasury Employee Union to negotiate this change in work practice before any further expansion of the program.

The IRS will submit requests to secure funding that will allow further expansion of TDC SFS-SM to other examination programs.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS agrees to continue efforts to educate taxpayers about expanded digital options such as secure messaging, and to allow more taxpayers to participate. The IRS plans to increase the percentage of taxpayers receiving invitations to use secure messaging.

Additional programming is required to ensure proper routing and inventory management procedures are in place before the IRS can effectively expand TDC SFS-SM to all taxpayers. This programming is dependent on funding and available resources.

In addition to the above noted programming and funding challenges, the IRS will also need to engage with the National Treasury Employee Union to negotiate this change in work practice before any further expansion of the program.

The IRS will submit requests to secure funding that will allow further expansion of TDC SFS-SM to other examination programs.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on the plans to increase the percentage of taxpayers receiving invitations to use secure messaging. While the IRS notes the personnel, programming, and funding challenges to further expansion of secure messaging, it does not dispute that further expansion would benefit more taxpayers. Permitting taxpayers to request access to secure messaging should be the long-term goal in lieu of the current invite-only strategy.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 10/31/2025

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6.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-6

Partner with additional CSPs before the retirement of Secure Access eAuth and full implementation of SADI and do not rely on a single CSP.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees to implement TAS recommendation in full.

The IRS is very interested in working with additional Credential Service Providers (CSPs). We began assessing vendors in 2019 and continue to engage the Government Services Administration to determine when login.gov will meet IRS security and service requirements. IRS Cybersecurity continues to revisit the marketplace for new and emerging CSPs that have developed a mature solution that aligns with NIST 800-63-3 and other industry certifications. Note: the implementation will depend on the readiness of the CSPs, not the readiness of the IRS. The IRS is ready to partner with additional CSPs; it is the CSPs who are not yet equipped to provide the number of transactions per second the IRS requires.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is very interested in working with additional Credential Service Providers (CSPs). We began assessing vendors in 2019 and continue to engage the Government Services Administration to determine when login.gov will meet IRS security and service requirements. IRS Cybersecurity continues to revisit the marketplace for new and emerging CSPs that have developed a mature solution that aligns with NIST 800-63-3 and other industry certifications. Note: the implementation will depend on the readiness of the CSPs, not the readiness of the IRS. The IRS is ready to partner with additional CSPs; it is the CSPs who are not yet equipped to provide the number of transactions per second the IRS requires.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on agreeing to implement this recommendation in full. Partnership with additional CSPs will be essential to providing taxpayers with continuous and uninterrupted service through the Secure Access Digital Identity (SADI) platform.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 12/31/2023

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7.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-7

Establish a process for taxpayers living outside the United States and taxpayers with ITINs to authenticate their identities in SADI or another platform that meets NIST requirements by December 31, 2022.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees to implement TAS recommendation in full.

The IRS is working with a Credential Service Provider (CSP) to explore options for identity proofing taxpayers living outside the United States and taxpayers with Individual Tax Identification Numbers. Once an option is identified that supports international identity proofing, we will work with partners to prioritize work needed to expand access to international user groups.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is working with a Credential Service Provider (CSP) to explore options for identity proofing taxpayers living outside the United States and taxpayers with Individual Tax Identification Numbers. Once an option is identified that supports international identity proofing, we will work with partners to prioritize work needed to expand access to international user groups.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on agreeing to implement this recommendation in full.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 12/31/2022

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8.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-8

Prioritize adding predefined virtual assistants to non-authenticated chat sessions for more digital communication services, such as helping taxpayers determine the best way to resolve a tax liability, including collection alternatives such as offers in compromise, installment agreements, and currently not collectible status by end of FY 2022.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​The IRS agrees with the TAS recommendation to prioritize adding predefined virtual assistants to non-authenticated chat sessions for more digital communication services, such as helping taxpayers determine the best way to resolve a tax liability, including collection alternatives such as offers in compromise, installment agreements, and currently not collectible status by end of fiscal year 2022. Future implementation will be contingent upon the availability of funding/resources and prioritization with other programming needs.

The IRS is developing a series of chatbots that provide general information to taxpayers through unauthenticated digital channels available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Users have the ability during the unauthenticated chat to escalate to live chat to an IRS assistor depending on time of day.

The IRS will work to implement this recommendation pending funding and prioritization with other live assistance (or voicebot/chatbot) use cases.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is developing a series of chatbots that provide general information to taxpayers through unauthenticated digital channels available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Users have the ability during the unauthenticated chat to escalate to live chat to an IRS assistor depending on time of day.

The IRS will work to implement this recommendation pending funding and prioritization with other live assistance (or voicebot/chatbot) use cases.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on agreeing to implement this recommendation in full. The IRS should prioritize adding predefined virtual assistants to non-authenticated chat sessions for more digital communication services.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 8/31/2022

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9.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-9

Expand non-authenticated and authenticated Text Chat (with Virtual Assistant) beyond ACS to all taxpayer-facing functions and transactional tools and incorporate expansion plans into Web Services planning and the Taxpayer Experience strategy.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees with TAS recommendation but cannot implement it currently due to funding limitations.

The IRS partially agrees with the TAS recommendation to expand non-authenticated and authenticated Text Chat (with Virtual Assistant) beyond Automated Collection System to all taxpayer-facing functions and transactional tools and incorporate expansion plans into web services planning and the Taxpayer Experience strategy. Future implementation will be contingent upon the availability of funding/resources and prioritization with other programming needs.

The IRS is targeting deployment in December 2023 for a modernized “agent desktop” to all contact center agents to provide a foundational framework for multi-channel capabilities and to allow for a seamless transition of services to taxpayers (e.g., live chat, click to voice call with a live agent) into a converged single agent desktop solution with voice, text, and other omnichannel technologies.

The IRS Information Technology (IT) division is currently working on a feasibility and solutions study to make the live chat platform available within our authenticated and unauthenticated Web Apps. Once established, chat features within Web Apps will have to go through funding approval and prioritization for implementation.

This response is based on plans for the IRS contact center environment, which may not include other taxpayer-facing functions and transactional tools for other IRS business units.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: The IRS is targeting deployment in December 2023 for a modernized “agent desktop” to all contact center agents to provide a foundational framework for multi-channel capabilities and to allow for a seamless transition of services to taxpayers (e.g., live chat, click to voice call with a live agent) into a converged single agent desktop solution with voice, text, and other omnichannel technologies.

The IRS Information Technology (IT) division is currently working on a feasibility and solutions study to make the live chat platform available within our authenticated and unauthenticated Web Apps. Once established, chat features within Web Apps will have to go through funding approval and prioritization for implementation.

This response is based on plans for the IRS contact center environment, which may not include other taxpayer-facing functions and transactional tools for other IRS business units.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS supports the IRS’s plans to create a single agent desktop solution with voice, text, and other omnichannel technologies. While we acknowledge that the IRS faces limitations on personnel and funding, incorporating these technologies into web services and the Taxpayer Experience strategy should be a critical component of future planning.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Partially Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): 12/31/2023

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10.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-10

Prioritize and focus on expansion of virtual face-to-face and self-service kiosks or similar technology to enable taxpayers with limited to no broadband access to interact virtually with the IRS by end of Quarter 1, FY 2023.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​IRS agrees to implement TAS recommendation in full.

​Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has not expanded the Virtual Service Delivery (VSD) program. The IRS tested a Web Service Delivery (WebSD) pilot in February 2020. WebSD is a digital communication tool allowing the IRS to offer virtual Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) appointments to taxpayers from their home or office. During the pilot, the number of assistors doubled from eight to sixteen, Alaska and Hawaii were added to the original four continental time zones, and the pilot was extended to May 2021 to coincide with the revised filing season date. Beginning March 15, 2022, the IRS will launch WebSD Phase 2 with the goal of deploying a sustainable long-term program via internet conferencing without having to travel to a TAC. This project will extend geographic coverage to include the Puerto Rico time zone. The pilot will run for approximately one year, with the exact end date dependent on funding. The goal of deploying a sustainable long-term program will also depend on the success of the pilot and funding.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: 

Beginning March 15, 2022, the IRS will launch WebSD Phase 2 with the goal of deploying a sustainable long-term program via internet conferencing without having to travel to a TAC. This project will extend geographic coverage to include the Puerto Rico time zone. The pilot will run for approximately one year, with the exact end date dependent on funding. The goal of deploying a sustainable long-term program will also depend on the success of the pilot and funding.

Update: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has not expanded the Virtual Service Delivery (VSD) program. The IRS tested a Web Service Delivery (WebSD) pilot in February 2020. WebSD is a digital communication tool allowing the IRS to offer virtual Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) appointments to taxpayers from their home or office. During the pilot, the number of assistors doubled from eight to sixteen, Alaska and Hawaii were added to the original four continental time zones, and the pilot was extended to May 2021 to coincide with the revised filing season date. On March 15, 2022, the IRS launched Microsoft Teams (MT) to replace WebSD for Phase 2 of the pilot, with the goal of MT being a sustainable long-term program via internet conferencing without having to travel to a TAC. This project will extend geographic coverage to include the Puerto Rico time zone. The pilot will run for approximately one year with the goal of utilizing MT as a sustainable long-term program pending on the success of the pilot.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS commends the IRS on agreeing to implement this recommendation in full. Creating a sustainable long-term program via internet conferencing that does not require taxpayers to travel to a TAC is critical to serving taxpayers that want or need personal assistance from the IRS.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Closed

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

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11.

TAS RECOMMENDATION #7-11

Make all existing applications mobile-ready so that all web content and assets are accessible, viewable, and usable across all devices. Going forward, standardize the application development process and testing to include mobile-ready access into newly developed applications by end of FY 2022.

IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: ​​IRS agrees with TAS recommendation but cannot implement it currently due to funding limitations.

Consistent with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act legislation, the IRS has aligned and offers mobile-ready experiences that can be accessed today by the current IRS user community. IRS continues to have the goal of making all existing applications mobile-ready so that all web content and assets are accessible, legible, and usable across all devices where legislative timelines and funding or other resource constraints can align. In addition, the IRS offers the IRS2Go mobile application to check your refund status, make payments, and provide information on tax tips and preparation. All new IRS online account applications go through the standard development process to baseline user experience and usability, which includes mobile readiness. Applications that utilize a mobile user interface are all tested through the standard IRS testing procedures.

CORRECTIVE ACTION: Consistent with the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act legislation, the IRS has aligned and offers mobile-ready experiences that can be accessed today by the current IRS user community. IRS continues to have the goal of making all existing applications mobile-ready so that all web content and assets are accessible, legible, and usable across all devices where legislative timelines and funding or other resource constraints can align. In addition, the IRS offers the IRS2Go mobile application to check your refund status, make payments, and provide information on tax tips and preparation. All new IRS online account applications go through the standard development process to baseline user experience and usability, which includes mobile readiness. Applications that utilize a mobile user interface are all tested through the standard IRS testing procedures.

TAS RESPONSE: TAS supports the IRS’s goal of making all existing applications mobile-ready so that all web content and assets are accessible, legible, and usable across all devices. While we acknowledge that the IRS faces limitations on personnel and funding, mobile-ready access is a key component of making IRS applications available to all taxpayers that wish to use them.

ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Adopted

OPEN or CLOSED: Open

DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): Ongoing (Iterative with each new application)

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