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The Need for IRS Reform: Taxpayers Deserve Quality Customer Service

March 12, 2018

Now that we have a new tax code that puts taxpayers and local job creators first, we need a tax administrator that does the same.

For the average American business, customer service is something that is not only expected, but required to be successful. Customers expect great service or they will take their business elsewhere.

However, every year when Americans file their taxes, they have no choice but to go through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency which has struggled to fulfill its stated mission of providing taxpayers with top quality service while ensuring the filing process is simple and easy to understand. Endless wait times, mishandled claims, and an inability to implement a comprehensive customer service strategy undermine that mission.

It’s time for the IRS to refocus on one of its primary and crucial responsibilities: serving the American people.

Is Anybody There?

Americans rely on the IRS to assist them in a fair and transparent way to understand their tax filing responsibilities. Unfortunately, this agency doesn’t make it easy for hardworking taxpayers who want to do the right thing.

Jennifer MacMillan of the National Association of Enrolled Agents told the Oversight Subcommittee in December 2017:

“Increasingly, enrolled agents, who are the frontline representatives of taxpayers at every level of the tax administrative system, are expressing the view that the quality of taxpayer service within the IRS has deteriorated to an unacceptable level over the last five years.”

This IRS has improved in one area – its telephone service has bounced back in recent years from an abysmally low 37 percent of calls answered during the 2015 filing season. But there is still more progress needed to address customer service concerns. According to the 2017 National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress:

“The IRS estimated that during the 2018 filing season it would only answer about six out of ten calls from taxpayers seeking to speak to a live assistor (i.e., a 60 percent ‘level of service’ or LOS). For the full 2018 fiscal year, the IRS estimated the LOS for calls seeking a live assistor would be below 40 percent — that is, only 4 out of 10 calls would get through to a live assistor.”

A Need for a Customer Service Strategy

Businesses of all types – from grocery stores to local mom-and-pop shops – not only require a customer service-oriented environment, but also pursue comprehensive programs and strategies to ensure high-quality customer service. In the case of the IRS, in 2015, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the IRS lacked a cohesive customer service strategy to address these concerns, one which we have yet to see implemented:

“GAO found that Treasury and IRS have neither developed nor have any plans to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy to define appropriate service levels and benchmark to the best in business or customer expectations as GAO has previously recommended. Without such a strategy, Treasury and IRS can neither measure nor effectively communicate to Congress the types and levels of customer service taxpayers should expect, and the resources needed to reach those levels.”

Mishandling Identity Theft Cases

No one wants to become a victim of identity theft, yet it is an all too common experience for many taxpayers. Identity theft can also be extremely costly, confusing, and time-consuming for victims to resolve.

When taxpayers are victimized, they should be able to rely on the IRS to resolve their issues in a timely manner while minimizing taxpayer burden. And yet, we continue to see taxpayers struggle to navigate the IRS’s process, which is intended to assist taxpayers.

As National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson told the Oversight Subcommittee at a May 2017 hearing:

“Identity theft and refund fraud have been the top two case receipts in taxpayer advocate service for the last five years. And they really are a significant part of the inventory. It’s devastating … people often submit documentation multiple times. There is no one person assigned to their case so every time they call they have to tell their story to a different person.”

The IRS was created to serve the American taxpayer and is capable of doing much better. Members of the Ways and Means Committee are committed to returning the IRS to its service first mission and will continue to work towards effective, long-term solutions.

Stay tuned for more blogs in the weeks ahead as the Committee works on IRS reform legislation.

CLICK HERE to read the previous blog in the series: “New Tax Code = New IRS.”