An IG report serves as a caution to agencies trying to reduce the costs of in-person services to the public through video conferencing technology, finding that offering such services is only one step.
The report examined an IRS video service delivery, or VSD, pilot program in its field assistance, office of appeals and taxpayer advocate services, using high-definition video conferencing technology for face-to-face dealings with taxpayers, the report said. A taxpayer can access the service through certain IRS offices or community partners such as a public library, and in some cases from their own homes or personal devices. The IRS has spent about $5.3 million setting up the program, with maintenance costs projected at $1.7 million a year.
Auditors said the program “shows promise” and that the equipment used is “high quality and user-friendly.” However, fewer than 2,700 taxpayers used the service in 2017 for reasons including that taxpayers prefer in-person dealings if there is an IRS office within a reasonable distance, that the IRS does not sufficiently publicize it, and that it does not offer the full range of services available in-person.
“Absent significant changes in oversight and management, the VSD program will likely continue to reach a very limited audience,” it said, adding that the IRS “has struggled to define the goal of the VSD program and quantify program effectiveness.”
Agencies including the VA and the SSA, for example, are also increasingly moving to video conferencing for customer service.