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Looking good: IRS takes steps to improve service.


IRS Takes Steps to Improve Service

Significant improvements have been made in the way the IRS service centers are doing business. These improvements will result in less hassle for tax practitioners as well as provide relief from those feelings of futility and frustration taxpayers experience in dealing with the IRS at its service center.

The long-standing barriers between the IRS and its employee union, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), like the Berlin Wall, dramatically came tumbling down in a joint search to find ways to improve the quality, the services and the work environment of employees at service centers. This mutual goal and cooperative effort must surely be a first in government and union annals. To meet the challenges of the '90s and to get service centers prepared for the 21st Century, IRS and NTEU officials realized that antiquated systems had to be radically and innovatively changed.

The IRS and NTEU entered into a landmark agreement called the IRS/NTEU Joint Quality Improvement Process. It is a "partnering" system wherein a unique relationship of a mutual and on-going commitment to excellence are key components for future improvements of day-to-day service center operations. This partnering is more than bureaucratic rhetoric. It is a way to better understand the needs of taxpayers and to provide direction for a strong future. Most importantly, it is an act of responsiveness to the manner in which business is conducted.

IRS Commissioner Fred T. Goldberg, Jr., and his top management staff are committed to improving the attitude of employees and the quality of work at service centers. Goldberg recently stated, "Quality is a joint process. It may start at the top, but it has to include everyone to work. It is not in competition with productivity and tight budgets; it is the answer to them." He also advocates reforming the IRS to be more responsive to taxpayer service.

IRS officials realized the majority of problems at service centers were caused by archaic systems and that traditional methods of review were not solving these chronic problems. It was then that the IRS opened its doors and extended an invitation to NTEU to jointly share in the pursuit of systemic improvements. Central to bringing about changes in work procedures and conditions was a trilogy of quality -- quality planning, quality control and quality improvements. The result has been overwhelmingly gratifying. Career employees responsible for service center operations eagerly accept change and also offer their own suggestions for improving operations.

Other significant improvements at service centers include:

Employer Identification Numbers (EIN) by Telephone (TELE-TIN)

Under this program EINs can now be immediately assigned over the telephone by employees at service centers. EINs will be issued to individual business owners, corporations, non-profit organizations, partnerships and trusts or estates. When calling service centers, practitioners should be prepared to answer the questions called for on the application Form SS-4. After you are assigned an EIN, write it in the upper right hand corner of the SS-4 (below the perforation). You are still required to file Form SS-4, which must be signed, dated and mailed (or faxed) to your respective service center within five (5) days of your phone call. TELE-TIN has proven to be a major benefit to practitioners and to the IRS. This service is now available at all service centers.

Penalty and Interest Notice Explanations (PINEX)

All service centers and district officers can now provide an explanation about IRS computed interest and penalties that appear on notices. PINEX can be furnished for all types of computer-generated penalties or interest except for the failure to deposit penalty. Because of 1989 tax law changes, PINEX notices for the failure to deposit penalty were postponed indefinitely. PINEX was implemented in late 1989 and meets the requirements under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Among other things, a multi-page PINEX provides:

1. A transcript of the account; 2. Dates and rates or factors used; 3. Principal amounts on which the IRS computed charges; 4. Written explanations; 5. Information about exceptions to various penalties or interest explanation requested; and 6. A summary of the account with current balance due, including any accrued penalty and interest.

A PINEX can be requested from your local district office or by writing to your respective service center for the attention of the IRS-Adjustments/Correspondence Branch.

On-Line Entity (OLE)

This is a system to accelerate the detection of mismatched taxpayer names and identification numbers to be used with individual and business returns. While the system is not fully operational at this time, it will significantly improve the ability for service centers to process returns and payments that previously would have been delayed because of mismatches.

Clarity and Quality of Notices

A special group of reviewers will be established at all service centers to eyeball notices for imperfections before mailing to taxpayers. Guidelines for this review have been developed for the IRS by an outside firm. The adopted guidelines will be in force on a nationwide basis after employees have been trained.

Practitioners Hotline (Non-Toll-Free) Telephone Service

Most district offices and services centers now have these lines for use by practitioners only to solve individual and business tax account related problems before situations are referred to the Problem Resolution Program. Employees answering these hotlines will be able to resolve problems relating to payment tracers, credit transfers and penalty adjustments.

Correspondex Expert and Professional Letter Systems

These systems were developed by the IRS to personalize and to improve the quality of correspondence issued by the service centers. Both systems make use of modern technology and personal computers that have the ability for spelling and grammar checks. All centers have the Correspondex Expert System, but the Professional Letter System is in use at two centers only. Presently both systems have limited use with certain letters. As equipment is upgraded, future plans will provide for expansion to other letters.

An automated taxpayer correspondence inventory control system is a part of the IRS modernization program. The system is still under design and is not expected to be completed until 1992. In the meantime, the number of telephone lines at the service centers have been increased to allow employees to handle taxpayer concerns immediately without the need for additional correspondence as a general rule.

Problem Resolution (PRP) and Operation Link

These programs have been in place for some time at all district offices and service centers. When account related problems or administrative situations are unable to be resolved through normal IRS channels, PRP provides assistance to determine the cause of the problem, and employees will immediately correct it. PRP is available to all taxpayers.

Operation Link is a program to improve communications between the IRS and tax practitioners. It is also used by the service to head off potential problems. Under this program, practitioners can mail their correspondence to special PRP post office addresses. A listing of PRP addresses and telephone numbers appears in IRS Publication 1320, a copy of which can be requested from your local district office.

Tax Practioner Case Priority Program (TPP)

This is a new program at service centers to handle complex cases that for one reason or another are not resolved through normal IRS channels and do not meet PRP case criteria. Some of the situations that come under this program are payments that have been credited to a wrong account or the payments have not been credited to an account. Practitioners will mail their information to special service center addresses that can be obtained from your local district office. It should be noted, TPP does not replace Operation Link or PRP.

Collection Procedures

To improve collections at service centers, special training in handling all matters dealing with collection work has been provided to employees. Also, recently the offer-in-compromise procedure was simplified to provide expeditious treatment in these matters. IRS has produced a new video on representing clients before the collection division, and practitioners may request a copy from the local district office.

While the list of service center improvements is the good news, the bad news is that the IRS' shrinking budget will cause future improvements to be postponed. Nevertheless, IRS officials and employees at all levels face the future with an unshakable commitment to first rate quality work and taxpayer service. In 1989, assistant to the commissioner for quality, a new position, was established to coordinate the IRS development for quality efforts. Currently more than 900 projects are in progress.

Tax administration is really a partnering or cooperative effort to be shared by the taxpaying public and the IRS. Officials at IRS understand this approach and realize tax administration is not their exclusive domain. Tax practitioners and tax return preparers especially play a very important role in this partnering. The economic challenges and changing tax laws facing our nation will put the IRS to its toughest test. Addressing this need for change, IRS and NTEU through their joint efforts have tapped the creativity and experience of employees at all levels for causing practical and workable changes at service centers. Changes already in place and those in progress are designed to ensure consistency of quality. This is recognized as a challenge to modernize equipment and to update computer systems at service centers.

In 1992 the filing of Form 4868 and Form 2688 (relating to extension of time to file Form 1040) will be eliminated. In place of these forms an automated system of extension approval based on satisfaction of tax liability will be established. Details of this system, Automated Processing of Extension (APEX), will be issued later in the year by IRS. As a reminder, these forms still need to be filed for extensions in 1990.

Commissioner Goldberg was recently quoted as saying, "Grab us by the neck and tell us." Other high level IRS executives have encouraged the public, in particular tax practitioners and tax return preparers, to share ideas with the IRS for making tax administration work better. As a practitioner, you can help with this task by relating your ideas to Commissioner Goldberg. Write to him at the IRS National Office, Washington, D.C. 20224. If you wish, contact your local district officials and tell them.

The efforts by Internal Revenue Service officials to make operations more efficient will demystify service center work, especially with regard to notices sent out to taxpayers. Hopefully, this will result in a better understanding of exactly what is wanted and why.

Neiland Cohen, EA, is a self-employed tax consultant in Milwaukee, WI. He is a member of NSPA and the Wisconsin Association of Accountants. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a major in accounting, he is accredited in taxation and a retired Internal Revenue agent. He has previously published articles in the National Public Accountant.
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Title Annotation:Internal Revenue Service
Author:Cohen, Neiland
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:Avoiding the 100% penalty.
Next Article:The 3 faces of liability.

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