GAO Report Says IRS Phone Service Still Lacking

In response to a request from the House Ways & Means Committee, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) performed an assessment of the performance and management of the IRS telephone answering service with regard to providing help with tax laws and taxpayer account information.

Objectives of the assessment were to compare the IRS performance during the 2001 tax filing season with similar performance during the 2000 tax filing season, and to assess the IRS's efforts to identify factors which determine such performance and the agency's response in evaluating and improving such factors.

The IRS employs approximately 10,000 telephone operators at 26 call sites around the country. Ten field directors are responsible for managing and supervising these call sites.

Results of the study indicate that the customers phoning the IRS for assistance in 2001 waited an average of 15 percent longer than in 2000. Overall, the IRS failed to meet six of the eight targets the agency set for itself in 2001.

While quality of service in IRS responses to inquiries about account status improved by 10%, quality of service in response to questions about tax law showed little change over the prior year.

In a letter responding to the GAO report, IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti stated, "While your report classifies our progress as limited, we are confident we are moving in the right direction." Commissioner Rossotti outlined several steps the IRS is taking that he hopes will ultimately improve the service provided by the agency, including increasing call site accountability and responsibility, assessing and realigning staffing requirements, and making enhancements to the Centralized Quality Review process.

You can read the complete GAO report, which includes Commissioner Rossotti's response.

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