IRS tries to balance service, enforcement roles

klunney@govexec.com

IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti Monday acknowledged his agency's struggle to balance the dual roles of law enforcer and customer service provider.

In testimony before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, Rossotti highlighted the agency's smooth Y2K transition and "considerable progress" in expanding electronic filing as successes. However, he also pointed out that a workforce reduction coupled with a workload increase have made providing optimal customer service difficult. Rossotti is requesting more funding from Congress for fiscal 2001 to maintain current operations, stabilize staffing, and continue updating information systems.

Congress passed the IRS Restructing and Reform Act (RRA) in July 1998, in response to calls for better service from the IRS. The act required the agency to implement 71 new or modified taxpayer rights provisions, which expanded taxpayers' rights and made collection agents more accountable for their cases.

Since the passage of that act, the agency has had to restructure and reorganize itself on virtually every level. Rossotti said the agency receives numerous recommendations on ways to improve service and fix problems, but that it is necessary to prioritize issues and problem-solve within the agency's capabilities.

"Addressing and managing these changes requires significant management attention, and many require additional resources, including information systems resources," he said.

Rossotti, who has focused on improving customer service, employee satisfaction, and business results, was praised by the members of the subcommittee and panel members for his efforts to turn the beleaguered agency around and for working with the IRS' numerous stakeholders on challenges confronting the agency. "He is responsible for planning and implementing the most fundamental changes in the IRS in nearly a half century," said Chairman Stephen Horn, R-Calif. in his opening statement.

However, there was ample criticism leveled at the agency. Panel members pointed out major weaknesses including:

  • Heavy reliance on a paper-based system.
  • Outdated technology and tax processing methods.
  • Service problems with a toll-free service number.
  • An inefficent and ineffective auditing system.

David L. Keating, senior counselor for the National Taxpayers Union, expressed concern over the agency's failure to notify taxpayers who overlook the child tax credit, resulting in over-collection by the IRS.

"If the Child Tax Credit is overlooked by as many American families this tax season as apparently failed to claim it last year, the IRS will over-collect perhaps $7 million just from returns that are filed today, while we talk about their performance," Keating said in his testimony.

The 1998 reform act also called for the creation of an IRS oversight board comprised of the Treasury Secretary, IRS Commissioner and business experts from the private sector. However, the process in establishing this group has been lengthy: the administration took over 18 months to get its nominations to the Senate and confirmation of the seven candidates is still pending.

Margaret T. Wrightson, associate director for tax policy and administration issues at the General Accounting Office, discussed the challenges the IRS faces in the areas of business practice, performance management, and information technology. She also emphasized that "customer service and compliance are meant to be complementary," but acknowledged that "understanding that customer service and compliance are not competing, but complementary, values will take time and an ample amount of clear communication and training."

The IRS this year is projected to collect $1.8 trillion in revenues, process 213.1 million tax returns and issue more than 93 million individual refunds. The agency audited about one-third fewer tax returns in 1999 than it did in 1997.

"We are wholly committed to implementing each and every taxpayer rights provision and making them work as intended, while still fulfilling our mandate to collect taxes that are due," Rossotti said. "We will get the job done and we will get it right. However, we will also make mistakes along the way and we are not yet at an acceptable level of quality, efficiency and effectiveness in the way that we are implementing some of these provisions."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.