Federal Manager's Daily Report

The latest report by the National Taxpayer Advocate, an outside body overseeing IRS operations, again focuses on degraded customer service from years of tight budgets and accompanying cuts in employment.

The report closely follows the annual report from the agency itself which said that employment had ticked up in 2019 after a decade of decline but remains down substantially and that addressed similar service issues.

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It cited industry surveys rating the IRS near the bottom among large agencies in customer service and said that in 2019 customer service representatives answered only 29 percent of the nearly 100 million phone calls received. Like many public-facing agencies, the IRS meanwhile has tried to drive more transactions online, in the process closing a tenth of its in-person taxpayer assistance centers and generally requiring those visiting the centers to schedule appointments in advance.

The report’s recommendations include that the IRS: conduct multi-disciplined, comprehensive research into taxpayer needs and preferences; require all business units, including those charged primarily with enforcement, to develop a detailed customer service strategy; appoint a chief customer experience officer to coordinate service initiatives across units; ensure that taxpayers who cannot work with the IRS digitally or whose issues are not resolved online can reach and work with an irs employee; and better address the needs of practitioners who interact with the IRS on behalf of large numbers of taxpayers.

“For each proposal included in its customer service strategy, include cost estimates, milestones, and taxpayer-focused performance measures so the effectiveness of the strategy in improving customer service can be measured over time,” it adds.

It also called for a cultural shift at the agency, saying that if the culture “is one where employees look to minimize interactions with taxpayers in an effort to move work, or where taxpayers who owe money are automatically viewed negatively, then expanding digital services [alone] will not improve customer service.”