IRS looks to digital services in taxpayer assistance centers
Computer kiosks for self-service and video teleconferencing with taxpayer assistance employees are part of an Internal Revenue Service effort to offer more cost-effective help and provide many of the services taxpayers must pay for in the private sector, says a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
But, in a report (.pdf) dated July 5 that was only posted online Sept. 10, auditors say that only about a third (32 percent) of the 106,261 taxpayers who had a problem solvable by a self-service kiosk and who visited a taxpayer assistance center with a kiosk in it as part of a pilot program during the current fiscal year ended up using one.
Auditors also throw into question the metric by which the IRS counted kiosk users by noting that it counts users by those who have accepted the end user agreement at the onset of a kiosk session rather than counting those who successfully completed their task at the kiosk.
The IRS lacks data on why 68 percent of eligible taxpayers seeking assistance bypassed a kiosk, but IRS employees cited reasons such as limited proficiency with computers of English, or that they "just did not want to do it themselves."
The report suggests that in the future, taxpayers visiting assistance centers might have less of a choice since the IRS wants to install machines that would require visitors to first indicate what service they seek and that would direct taxpayers to a self-assistance kiosk, "if appropriate."
The IRS also wants to expand use of video teleconferencing at the assistance centers. So far, 8,514 taxpayers have tried it out and 87 percent of the 280 who responded to a customer satisfaction survey reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the video assistance. Some respondents did identify lack of privacy as a stumbling block, however.
Congress turned down a tax agency request for fiscal 2012 funding to expand the self-service kiosks to 20 new assistance centers and didn't include in the fiscal 2013 appropriations request money for expansion, auditors say.
- download the report, 2012-40-073 (.pdf)