The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has already developed a state-of-the-art virtual service model to interact with taxpayers that intended to modernize the experience and help the agency keep costs down, but taxpayers are not using it. The IRS handles about 116 million calls through its customer contact centers each year at a cost of around USD41 per call, as the agency’s Chief of user experience and design, Michael Lin said. He also noted that taxpayers who want to meet in-person cost the agency some USD67 a visit.
The agency has been working on solutions to offer better customer service at a lower cost, including the Virtual Service Delivery system (VSD). The system is not omnipresent, so taxpayers have to go to one of 47 specific locations to access the service like an IRS field office or library, though the agency is working to increase the service to be accessible from any computer or personal device. While those pilots are underway, taxpayers currently must call one of the assigned locations to make an appointment before arriving in person. According to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) pointed out that the service also suffers from the low utility. IG report detailed with an instance that taxpayers cannot utilize VSD to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or resolve potential identity theft issues because the IRS does not approve the virtual authentication of identification documents, though federal guidelines permit virtual authentication.
Since 2011, the IRS has spent USD 5.3 million to build out the system. That total will rise to USD7 million before the end of FY 2020. Auditors said that the service itself seems to work well, who tried it out in person at nine sites. But, only 2,700 taxpayers used the system in 2017. In their assessment, TIGTA auditors stated that the number of services offered, problematic locations, particularly those in close proximity to other tax assistance services and a lack of coordinated publicity have led taxpayers to seek assistance through other channels. Auditors further said that the program suffers from a lack of defined goals and performance metrics.
The report said searching alternative service delivery arrangements like VSD that aligns with the IRS’s goal to expand the ways in which taxpayers can interact with the IRS. However, engaging alternative service delivery arrangements for the sake of following them is not enough to justify a program’s existence. Without a clear vision and goals for the VSD program, it is impossible to objectively measure whether the program is operating effectively or not.