GAO Reports  
GGD-95-86 April 12, 1995

Telephone Assistance: Adopting Practices Used By
Others Would Help IRS Serve More Taxpayers

Many taxpayers who seek help from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by telephone are not getting it. Although IRS has improved its telephone assistance program, the agency's telephone management practices have not kept up with those of the Social Security Administration and four private firms surveyed by GAO. IRS employees answered about the same number of calls each year--about 36 million--even though the staff available to answer calls declined. IRS answered about one out of two calls in fiscal year 1989 but only about one out of four calls in fiscal year 1994. IRS has improved its telephone assistance program, particularly its ability to route calls among call sites and provide assistors with taxpayer account information. However, IRS lags in the application of modern information technology. However, GAO believes that IRS could adopt management practices used by other organizations to answer more calls with existing resources. GAO notes that IRS senior management has not aggressively and consistently pursued the implementation of commonly used practices. In part, these attempts failed because IRS lacked a strategy for working with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents most IRS telephone assistance workers, to introduce systemwide operating practices and standards.

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