May 16,2002

Grassley, Baucus Comment on the IRS' Innocent Spouse Program

Last April, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus asked the General Accounting Office(GAO) to audit the Internal Revenue Service's Innocent Spouse Program out of concern over theagency's inability to provide timely responses to taxpayers who requested relief from debt caused bya spouse's failure to pay taxes due. The GAO has completed its report, "IRS's Innocent SpouseProgram Performance Improved; Balanced Performance Measures Needed (GAO-02-558)." Baucusand Grassley made the following comment on the report.

"The report shows the IRS has made good progress in improving the Innocent SpouseProgram for taxpayers. The IRS has reduced a backlog and made improvements in processing thesecases more timely, at lower costs and at a maintained or improved level of accuracy. However, keychallenges remain. The IRS lacks performance measures for the program to help ensure that in thefuture, the agency doesn't focus on processing times at the expense of customer service and accuracy.

The IRS also needs to evaluate its Innocent Spouse Program Web site to determine how useful it isto taxpayers and the effect, if any, on lessening taxpayer confusion about innocent spouse eligibility.

"Based on these findings, we encourage the IRS to follow the GAO's recommendations toimprove the Innocent Spouse Program. The improvements will help the program better servetaxpayers who are caught in a bureaucratic web over debt to the federal government for which theyaren't responsible. Improving this program will help thousands of taxpayers a year. It's a key steptoward fulfilling the IRS' broad goal of improving its service to all taxpayers."The GAO report is attached.