August 11,2005

GAO Suggests IRS May Be Wasting Millions of Dollars of Taxpayers Assistance Training Programs

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday by U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Max Baucus (D-MT) suggests that theInternal Revenue Service (IRS) could be wasting millions of dollars on employee trainingprograms intended to improve accuracy and ensure that taxpayers get the right answers to theirquestions. GAO cited previous reports revealing that the IRS continues to provide inaccurateinformation to taxpayers who request help in complying with federal tax laws.

The GAO study looked at employee training and development for four types of taxpayerassistance: less complex tax law questions answered by phone; more complex tax law questionsanswered by phone; tax law questions answered at walk-in sites; and tax return preparation atIRS walk-in sites.

After previous studies revealed that taxpayers were routinely getting inaccurateinformation about tax laws and incorrect tax return preparation assistance at IRS walk-inTaxpayer Assistance Centers, the IRS put enhanced employee training programs in place. TheGAO report says, however, the IRS is failing to meet it own annual accuracy goals and is doinglittle to measure the effectiveness of that training. It also has no long-term accuracy goals,training goals, or other measures suitable for an assessment of long-term skill training onaccuracy, the GAO report said. Further, the IRS has not conducted an assessment of long-termskill needs for those who provide taxpayer assistance, and does not benchmark its trainingprograms and practices for comparison with training programs at other organizations, the GAOreported.

“Taxpayers deserve, and should be able to expect that they will receive, correctinformation when they ask the IRS for help,” said Dorgan, who with Baucus requested the GAOstudy in January 2004. “More training and better training is obviously part of the answer, but ifyou’re not measuring the effectiveness of that training you don’t know whether you’re actuallysolving the problem. Clearly the IRS needs to do better. Otherwise we’re compounding theproblem of providing incorrect information by wasting tax dollars on training that appears to bemissing the mark.”

Senator Baucus commented: “The IRS cannot keep blindly throwing money at trainingwithout seeing the results. It must put a strategy in place that includes long-term goals andperformance measures for training and accuracy so it can make informed decisions about the useof its limited resources to improve customer service.”

Dorgan and Baucus said the IRS has agreed to establish some long-term training goalsand do better monitoring of the effect of its training on the accuracy of information provided totaxpayers.

A copy of the report, "Tax Administration: IRS Needs Better Strategic Planning andEvaluation of Taxpayer Assistance Training", GAO-05-782, can be located at