IRS spending $320M on website improvements
As the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting returns this week for the 2012 tax season, the agency has begun a $320 million upgrade over 10 years to improve its website content, design and usability, according to a new GAO report.
But the IRS' website plans need to be more strategic to address a need to shift incoming inquiries from the public to less expensive online customer service tools while minimizing use of expensive telephone customer services, the Jan. 17 report said.
IRS’ current $320 million investment for its website includes new, more secure portals so that taxpayers can access more information. The new website is expected to go online in 2013.
IRS, SSA score highest in customer satisfaction
However, the IRS needs to be more strategic about exactly what online customer services it intends to improve, and what it hopes to achieve, the GAO said.
“IRS does not have concrete plans that define what additional online services the new website will ultimately provide and how much the services will cost,” the report said. “To their credit, IRS officials have begun developing a roadmap that identifies some online services they would like to provide, and IRS has periodically added new online services in the past. However, the roadmap omits several fundamental elements. “
Missing from the roadmap are a cost-benefit analysis for the new services, schedule for deployment or specific plans to revisit and make changes to the strategy.
The IRS ought to consider specific plans for more automated phone service as a partial substitute for telephone service with a customer service representative.
“The extent to which taxpayers can be diverted to the Web will allow IRS to assist them at a much lower cost and more quickly,” the GAO report said.
Adding urgency to the efforts is the IRS’ telephone service is showing strains. Taxpayers who called IRS phone lines in 2011 waited an average of 11.7 minutes in 2011, up from 9.5 minutes in 2010 and 8.4 minutes in 2009, the report said.
The GAO recommends that to reduce telephone problems the goal should be to shift calls to self-service tools, such as interactive automated telephone lines or the IRS website.
“In 2011, through June 30, CSRs answered over 22 million calls at a cost of about $30 per call, for a total of about $660 million. Conversely, IRS said this year it cost $0.36 to answer an automated phone call,” the report said.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.