The quality of the IRS' telephone assistance during the 2000 tax filing season was fair to mediocre, according to a new General Accounting Office report. Since 1999, the agency's toll-free telephone service has provided tax assistance to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through 25 call centers across the country. The report found that while the IRS answered 59 percent of calls from the toll-free taxpayer assistance lines in the 2000 tax filing season, improving on its 50 percent customer service rate in 1999, the agency still fell well below the 69 percent service level reached in 1998. In the tax law and account question categories, the IRS also fell below the targets set for 2000, according to the report. The IRS defines an answered call as one that "received service, either from assistors or telephone interactive applications." "IRS officials acknowledged performance fell short of its long-term goal of providing assistance comparable to that provided by leading public and private telephone customer service organizations," said the report "IRS Telephone Assistance: Quality of Service Mixed in the 2000 Filing Season and Below IRS' Long-term Goal" (GAO-01-189
). While IRS officials attributed the drop in customer service levels to several factors, such as the demand for assistance, the number of staffers, staff productivity and staff skill levels, GAO found the agency had inadequate information on how these areas influenced the level of service and accuracy. "We recommend that the IRS commissioner ensure that IRS analyzes all the key management decisions and other key factors affecting telephone performance each filing season to determine their impact on the quality of service and to make improvements," the report said. In a response to GAO's findings, IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti agreed that the report accurately portrayed the situation and acknowledged that the agency needed to better organize and analyze its phone operations. According to Rossotti, when the newly crafted IRS Call Center Model, which incorporates workload, staffing and measures and goals is implemented in fiscal 2002, there should be marked improvements in the agency's service levels. "Achieving world class service will be the culmination of sustained effort," Rossotti wrote. "You can expect further progress at the end of the 2001 review." This report is the last in a series of three reports on the IRS' toll-free phone service. The first report (GAO/GGD-00-161
), released in August 2000, looked at human capital practices in selected public and private call centers. The second report (GAO-01-144
), released in January, evaluated the IRS' human capital management practices in identifying human capital practices to achieve the IRS' goals.