National Taxpayer Advocate Reviews Filing Season and Identifies Priority Areas and Challenges in Mid-Year Report to Congress

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National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Nina E. Olson released her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress that contains extended excerpts from her ongoing Public Forums on Taxpayer Needs and Preferences, presents a review of the 2016 filing season, and identifies the priority issues the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will address during the upcoming fiscal year.

FY17 Objectives Report to Congress Cover

FY17 Objectives Report to Congress Cover

During the 2016 filing season… the IRS nearly doubled the percentage of calls it answered and reduced wait times by more than half.

National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Nina E. Olson released her mid-year report to Congress containing extended excerpts from her ongoing Public Forums on Taxpayer Needs and Preferences, presents a review of the 2016 filing season, and identifies the priority issues the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will address during the upcoming fiscal year.

For the last two years, the IRS has been developing a “Future State” plan that envisions how the agency will operate in five years and beyond. A central component of the plan is the development of online taxpayer accounts. In the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2015 Annual Report to Congress, Olson praised aspects of the plan but expressed concern that (i) the IRS’s intent in developing online accounts is largely to save money in light of recent budget cuts by reducing telephone and face-to-face assistance and (ii) many taxpayers will not conduct business with the IRS through online accounts because they lack Internet access or skills, cannot complete the authentication process required to set up an account, do not trust the security of the IRS system, or would prefer to speak with an IRS employee. Consequently, she expressed concern that critical taxpayer needs may go unmet under the Future State plan.

The report contains extended excerpts from the transcripts of the Public Forums, organized around key concerns that Olson identified in her earlier report or that panelists consistently raised. Information on the Public Forums, including complete transcripts, is available here.

Olson announced that TAS will conduct a nationwide survey of a statistically representative sample of U.S. taxpayers about their needs, preferences, and experience with IRS taxpayer service and will hold focus groups on the IRS Future State at the IRS Tax Forums this summer.

Because the IRS Future State plan aims to establish how the IRS will interact with taxpayers in the coming years, TAS views it as its most important area of focus. TAS’s overriding goal will be to work with the IRS to ensure the plan provides high quality taxpayer service and protection of taxpayer rights. Olson plans to “set forth our vision of the IRS Future State in the 2016 National Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report to Congress. This plan, I can say with confidence, will be based on taxpayers’ needs and preferences, as they and their representatives have expressed them to us.”

Overview of the Filing Season:
The report says the IRS delivered a generally successful filing season in 2016. The IRS substantially improved taxpayer service on its toll-free telephone lines as compared with 2015. In every year since FY 2008, the IRS has received more than 100 million telephone calls. During the 2015 filing season, IRS telephone service reached a low; the IRS answered only 37 percent of taxpayer calls routed to customer service representatives overall, and the wait time for taxpayers who got through averaged 23 minutes. During the 2016 filing season, the IRS answered 73 percent of its calls, and the wait time dropped to 11 minutes. The IRS nearly doubled the percentage of calls it answered and reduced wait times by more than half.

The report describes areas where the IRS has limited or eliminated important services such as service at the Taxpayer Assistance Center (TACs), limited assistance with tax-law questions, imposed excessive burden on legitimate taxpayers with its identity theft filters, and limited service options for U.S. taxpayers living abroad.

Priority Issues for FY 2017:
The report identifies and discusses 14 other priority issues the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate plans to focus on during the upcoming fiscal year. Among them are the FATCA burden, private debt collection implementation, IRS levies on retirement accounts, online taxpayer accounts, EITC compliance and identity theft victim assistance procedures.

Later this month, TAS will release a second volume of the report that contains the IRS’s responses to the administrative recommendations the NTA made in her 2015 Annual Report to Congress, along with additional TAS analysis of, and comments on, the IRS responses.

The NTA is required by statute to submit two annual reports to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance. The statute requires these reports to be submitted directly to the Committees without any prior review or comment.

About the Taxpayer Advocate Service:
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that can help protect your taxpayer rights. We can offer you help if your tax problem is causing a hardship or if you've tried but haven't been able to resolve your problem with the IRS. If you qualify for our assistance, which is always free, we will do everything possible to help you. Visit taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call 1-877-777-4778. You can get updates on tax topics at Facebook.com/YourVoiceAtIRS, Twitter.com/YourVoiceatIRS, and YouTube.com/TASNTA.

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Maryclaire Ramsey, Director, TAS Communications
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