The Internal Revenue Service needs to provide better service to its own employees before the employees can provide better service to the public, a task force commissioned by Vice President Al Gore reported Wednesday.
Gore released the task force's 200 recommendations, included in a report called "Reinventing Service at the IRS," at a White House ceremony. Also at the ceremony were Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti and members of the task force, which was made up of front-line IRS employees and managers from across the country.
"Many people don't understand that the employees want to fix these problems more than anybody else," Gore said. "This group has helped the IRS rediscover its last name."
The task force cited numerous workplace issues that prevent IRS employees from providing efficient service to taxpayers, including slow or no computer access, weak information technology support, and poor training. Less than 50 percent of IRS employees think they have the training they need to do their jobs properly, the task force found.
"This job is frustrating enough without having to feel like an idiot because it takes so long to do things," Colleen Mathis, an IRS employee from Nashville, Tenn., told the task force. "The computer goes down half the time, sometimes in the middle of a conversation. It's difficult to access some things because of the way the command codes are . . . At times the forms we have to fill out are low in supply or no supply and we have to hunt for a form. Or there's no paper in the printers and we can't find any."
In addition, the task force reported that many IRS managers don't promote a family-friendly workplace by allowing workers to use flexible hours or telecommuting arrangements. IRS employees also have no formal way of suggesting ideas to agency decision-makers, while headquarters decisions affecting employees often take too long to trickle down to the front lines.
"If, as industry has learned, employee satisfaction and support are prerequisites for customer satisfaction, then the IRS has significant work ahead," the task force concluded.
Rossotti said the task force's recommendations are a "framework for providing a new customer service focus at the IRS." He said major changes will continue to be made. "We're not just tinkering at the margins here," he insisted.
Gore highlighted five customer service initiatives:
- The IRS will open 150 of its offices on the last six Saturdays of this year's filing season, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so taxpayers can pick up forms and get answers to questions from IRS employees.
- Small businesses will be able to use a telephone filing system to file their quarterly payroll returns.
- The IRS' Pacific Northwest district will set up a small business laboratory that will experiment with ways to help small businesses with tax issues.
- On the last three Saturdays of the filing season this year, the IRS will help low-income, elderly and Earned Income Tax Credit-eligible taxpayers prepare their returns.
- The IRS will work to make electronic tax filing the preferred filing method for most Americans.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., has chosen to take a measured approach to IRS reform, holding hearings this spring to determine if any changes need to be made to the House bill. Roth's hearings last September highlighted IRS abuses of taxpayers, which focused nationwide attention on IRS reform.