In a report that underscores the challenges that many agencies are facing in balancing traditional face-to-face customer service with remotely delivered services, an inspector general audit has raised issues with the IRS’s approach to opening and closing customer service centers.
Like many agencies, the IRS has been trying to drive more customer service into online and other self-serve formats such as kiosks as a money-saver over legacy in-person services, in the face of some resistance from the public.
In the case of the IRS, that resistance resulted in appropriations bill language imposing certain restrictions on closing any of its 359 centers. However, the IRS did not comply with those requirements before closing some centers in 2018, the IG found. “For example, the IRS did not timely provide a report to congressional committees on the steps being taken to prevent taxpayer assistance center closures. In addition, the IRS did not conduct a study on the taxpayer impact of closing four taxpayer assistance centers that the IRS closed” after passing that law, failing to hold a public forum in the affected communities at least six months prior to closing the centers, it said.
Further, the IG said that the agency did not use its own data-driven model to expand in-person center. That identified 28 underserved areas with a high number of taxpayers who are likely to seek face-to-face assistance because they have low income or have received an IRS letter or notice and live more than 30 miles from a taxpayer assistance center, it said.
However, the report did note benefits to the agency from its 2017 switch from walk-in services to requiring appointments. Just over one-half of the taxpayers who call the appointment telephone line have their issues resolved in that call, avoiding the need for face-to-face assistance, it said.