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Saturday, February 4, 2012

GAO Report on IRS Website and Self-Service Tools

A GAO report - Processing Gains, but Taxpayer Assistance Could Be Enhanced by More Self-Service Tools, GAO-12-176 (12/15/11), states the following regarding the IRS website:

"The use of IRS’s website is growing, particularly the number of searches, which IRS officials attribute, in part, to taxpayers having difficulties locating information. Having an easily searchable website is important for IRS because it reduces costly phone calls. IRS has begun spending a planned $320 million on its website over 10 years. However, IRS’s initial strategy for providing new self-service tools online does not include allowing taxpayers to access account information and is missing fundamental elements, including a justification for new services and time frames. Doing so would provide Congress and taxpayers with a better understanding of the online services IRS plans to provide with its significant investment on its website."

The chart above is also from the report. Clearly, many people use the IRS website with 312 million searches in 2011. But, the GAO notes that the IRS does not have a "comprehensive Internet strategy" (page 20).

In addition to what the GAO suggests, I'd recommend that the IRS review its policy or procedures for determining what to put on its website. There seem to be too many types of items, such as:
  • News releases - example
  • Fact sheets - example
  • International tax gap series - here
  • Summertime tax tips - example 
  • Tax Topics - example
  • FAQ - list + example of a set of FAQs that is not on that list (there are other examples as well)
  • Small Business and Self-Employed Center - here
  • What's Hot - here
  • Uncategorized information - example   +   another example (there are many)
  • Tax answers and help - here
  • Forms and publications - here
The above is not a complete list. Why does the IRS have so many different types of items on the website? Also, how much time is it taking to produce these items - which are almost all items that cannot be relied upon to avoid a possible penalty imposed on a taxpayer or preparer? Could some of this time be spend issuing formal guidance (rather than FAQs, for example)?

Can't they just have the publications and form instructions be the only type of informal guidance rather than also information on the website or fact sheets?  The publications could all have linked, detailed table of contents to get you to the topic you are looking for.

What do you think?

1 comment:

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