IRS upgrading phone service

The Internal Revenue Service will launch a new system July 27 to make it easier for taxpayers to call the agency and get accurate information quickly.

John Reece, the IRS' chief information officer, said the enhanced phone system — part of the agency's 15-year modernization effort — is one step in the massive process of turning the IRS into a "customer-focused operation." The agency receives 120 million phone calls a year, he said, but has been criticized for putting callers on hold and giving out bad information. Reece told the annual meeting of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils in New Orleans June 27 that he is committed to making modernization work and keeping it on schedule.

"It isn't rocket science," Reece said. "It's big and it's complex, but the job has been done successfully many times before."

Reece came out of retirement this year from the private sector to work with IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti on changing the way the IRS does business.

By the end of this year, Reece said the modernization program would begin transferring taxpayer data from the 1960s-era tape system to the Customer Account Data Engine.

In the coming year, IRS officials want to begin shrinking the time it takes to issue tax refunds to electronic filers from the current average of five to seven weeks to only two or three days, he said. And Reece expects the IRS will be able to start audits in the same filing season that a return is made; it now takes two or three years to initiate audits.

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