The Inspector General of the Treasury for Tax Administration said that the Internal Revenue Service’s digital taxpayer communications program, although it’s been around for two years, could do more to improve communications with taxpayers, saying current efforts are a bit unfocused.
The recent report noted that since the initiative launched in 2020, the IRS has implemented 11 program units that have improved digital communications, the majority of which include secure messaging for various IRS units. However, while secure messaging is an integral part of the agency’s efforts to improve communication and modernize digital communications, TIGTA said few taxpayers have benefited from it, as several such facilities have been developed and launched for a number relatively small number of expected users. He noted that five of the 11 units were approved despite the expectation of having 1,000 expected users or less. Two facilities did not estimate their expected user volume at all in the risk assessment documents.
TIGTA said this demonstrates that the IRS has focused more on completing facilities than maximizing its ability to communicate with taxpayers. Rather than proactively identifying IRS functions or operations that would demonstrably benefit from improved digital communications, the service simply allows any IRS program, function, or business unit wishing to explore improvements digital communications to express interest. In this sense, the program was implemented without certain standards or analyses, to the great detriment of the IRS.
“TIGTA determined that there were no performance measures in place for the TDC program office. Additionally, none of the offices or programs involved in the TDC facilities were required to provide cost-benefit analyzes and more in-depth attempts should have been made to identify and consider feedback from external and internal stakeholders to identify areas for improvement where consensus was strongest,” the report states.
Constantly updating measurable goals and objectives, TIGTA said, can provide a method by which the TDC program office and relevant functions can assess their success and progress. When asked about this, the most common response to inspectors was that certain parameters or measures did not apply to particular situations, or that the program and its components did not have quantifiable results. For example, seven of the 11 units installed so far do not or have not actively tracked the number of authenticated taxpayers. In several cases, this number was not tracked separately because it had the same landing page on IRS.gov and the IRS cannot differentiate the facility. However, taxpayers cannot use the secure messaging tool unless they are authenticated, making successful authentication an important measure of whether the taxpayer was able to use the secure messaging features.
Overall, TIGTA said the IRS needed more metrics and metrics, not despite, but because of the service’s financial constraints.
“Performance metrics provide a way to determine what has been accomplished and whether or not an organization is meeting its stated goals and objectives. Setting goals and standardizing the assessment of facility usage could provide a way to direct IRS resources to taxpayer segments or IRS functions where secure messaging may have better adoption Given the limited resources of the IRS, it is important that the TDC program develops performance measures associated with established goals or objectives to assess whether improvements need to be made,” said TIGTA, who added that the same goes for cost-benefit analyses.
TIGTA said the IRS should:
- Leverage lessons learned to extend digital communications to all taxpayers;
- Reassess the level of assurance required for TDC installations;
- Develop and implement an evaluation plan to evaluate the TDC program and its management of TDC facilities;
- Develop a method by which information is obtained from all stakeholders to determine why users may not be interested in TDC facilities, what barriers to adoption exist, and how IRS employees can support adoption by taxpayers; and,
- Establish an office that would coordinate and manage the expansion and use of digital communication among stakeholders.
The IRS said it is already following the first recommendation, pointing to regular meetings and roundtables to identify strategic topics, as well as its prioritization process and use of a rubric-based process flow. of cases. He also said he was already following the third recommendation, saying he regularly monitors the program, using project-by-project metrics to identify individual program success; furthermore, he disputed the implication that he does not use cost-benefit analyses, although TIGTA stated that his concern was that they were not required consistently. The service also believed it was already addressing the fourth recommendation, stating that it uses multiple data collection tools, as well as survey tools to better understand taxpayer needs and preferences. Regarding the fifth recommendation, the IRS said that the TDC program itself fulfills this role and therefore does not need to create an entirely new office.
He agreed with the second recommendation, however, saying he would reassess the level of insurance needed for TDC facilities.