Federal Manager's Daily Report

A report by an outside body overseeing the IRS has credited increased automation in customer service with helping to lessen the agency’s problems in that area but notes that automating processes—a strategy being pursued by many other agencies for that same purpose as well—has its limits.

The annual report by the IRS Advisory Council recounts data from IG, GAO and other reports documenting degraded customer service in recent years in areas including phone calls and written correspondence, citing the same root causes including budget restrictions over a number of years and the partial government shutdown of December 2018-January 2019. Service in those areas are “of great importance” to taxpayers and tax preparers and “continue to be a source of frustration” to them, it said.

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“These statistics have real-world consequences for taxpayers and their representatives. The only good news in them is that the call volumes are down from the levels in the early to mid-1990s, and that is likely owing to the positive effects of increased automated assistors and other technology, such as the IRS’s website IRS.gov, and fewer tax law changes,” it said.

“Much work has been done to make necessary information and services available on the IRS website, and the progress there is remarkable and positive. However, many of the unanswered calls and correspondence are from taxpayers seeking additional information to prepare and file their tax returns and reports. Many calls and correspondence are taxpayers and/or their representatives trying to respond to IRS inquiries and notices, including impending levies and other collection matters. Because some of these processes are automated, the inability to engage with the IRS can mean serious problems for the affected taxpayers and significantly higher costs for their representatives,” it said.

Also, many taxpayers who contact the IRS are trying to deal with problems related to identity theft and “resolution of these types of issues cannot and should not be fully automated because they require engagement with IRS personnel to resolve complex matters.”