IRS gets static on phone service

The Internal Revenue Service stumbled repeatedly during the 2000 tax season in delivering prompt and reliable telephone service to taxpayers, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

Taxpayers often were unable to even reach the toll-free help line, and when they did, they may have received inaccurate information about filing taxes. In fact, the IRS fell far short of its promise to provide "world class" telephone assistance to its customers, the report said.

The IRS answered 59 percent of calls to toll-free taxpayer assistance lines in 2000, better than the 50 percent it achieved in 1999. But only 31 percent of taxpayer calls to the IRS help line were answered within 30 seconds, far short of the 90 percent benchmark set by organizations that measure service levels. And taxpayers received accurate answers about tax law only 73 percent of the time.

The "IRS must significantly improve telephone assistance if it is to meet its long-term goal of providing world-class customer service to the tens of millions of taxpayers that call," GAO said.

"While IRS has undertaken efforts to analyze its performance and identify ways to improve, these efforts have been incomplete," the report states.

In a letter responding to the GAO report, IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti promised improvements. He said the IRS has put in place a multiyear strategic plan for telephone service as well as other customer services.

"We agree we need to better organize and analyze data and measure the cause-and-effect relationships for short- and long-term decision-making, We are taking steps to...consider all key management and other factors that affect performance," he said.

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