The IRS and its customer service problems

  • 25 June 2019
  • NormanL

The Internal Revenue Service has been working on its customer service for years. But according to a recent report form Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen, the agency still has a difficult time answering taxpayers' questions in a timely, and accurate, way:

The IRS faced significant challenges in the 2019 filing season, including a 35-day partial government shutdown, numerous tax reform changes, and the design of a new Form 1040. Nevertheless, it successfully processed most returns, with most taxpayers receiving a timely refund. For taxpayers who needed more help, however, the experience was challenging. The IRS reported a 67 percent level of service as its benchmark measure of telephone performance, but that performance measure is misleading. Only 23 percent of callers actually spoke to a live assistor. The IRS answered fewer calls on its compliance telephone lines (33 percent level of service), and those who got through waited an average of 41 minutes. The IRS served fewer taxpayers who sought help at Taxpayer Assistance Centers and continued its policy of answering only a limited scope of tax law questions on the phone and in person. Additionally, the IRS’s refund fraud filters continued to operate with high false positive rates, which significantly delayed refunds for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who filed legitimate returns, harming some taxpayers and creating additional work for the IRS.

We get it: handling America's tax returns is an increasingly complex and difficult job. It's very likely to get worse over time, as the tax code continues to be the plaything of politicians of both major parties. A good long-term solution? A simplied tax code based on a flat or fair tax. The alternative is grinding along with a burdensome system that even its administrators can't fully comprehend. That's unsustainable.