Customer Service

Funding bought taxpayers better service

Shutterstock image (by Macrovector): operator service and support.

As Tax Day approaches, taxpayers are getting solid service from the IRS, according to an April 7 report from the Government Accountability Office.

The praise comes after the IRS' disastrous 2015 performance on customer service.

"As of Feb. 26, 2016, IRS had processed about 56 million individual tax returns as well as 47 million refunds totaling $142 billion," GAO's report states. The whole process has generally been smooth, and a quickly corrected hardware failure in February had only minimal effect on the agency's work, auditors said.

GAO credited the additional $290 million that Congress earmarked for cybersecurity, fraud prevention and taxpayer services as helping the IRS make substantial improvements. The IRS dedicated $178 million of that funding to taxpayer services.

On the technical side, GAO said the IRS' close cooperation with industry has helped combat fraud and minimized the disruption caused by February's daylong outage.

On the taxpayer side, auditors said the IRS' telephone service level had risen to 76 percent, compared to 43 percent in February 2015. Callers had to wait an average of nine minutes for help this year, compared to 28 minutes a year ago.

IRS officials expect those numbers to worsen during the rest of the filing season but to still be better than 2015's numbers.

Although the IRS might plan to move to a more automated customer service model, GAO noted that live phone operators fill an important role in sustaining the voluntary tax compliance that underpins the American system.

And it seems the IRS agrees: The agency is taking 200 full-time employees from a compliance section and putting them on the customer service phones this filing season.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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