PHOENIX — As part of ongoing efforts to receive feedback from the tax community and partner groups, the Internal Revenue Service said in a year-end news release that tax professionals attending its nationwide tax forums highlighted a number of areas to help the agency shape its Future State Initiative efforts, to improve taxpayer service.
The IRS has been developing what it calls a “Future State Initiative” that envisions the taxpayer experience over the next five years and beyond. In an IRS bulletin last updated Feb. 22, 2016, the IRS outlines the initiative.
“Preparing the IRS to adapt to the changing needs of taxpayers is described generally as the IRS Future State initiative,” the bulletin states.
Throughout 2016, IRS tax forums were held in five cities with more than 10,700 tax professionals attending, the service’s Dec. 29 news release states.
“(The) Tax Forums were an excellent opportunity to discuss the IRS Future State with tax professionals and get their perspectives,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “Our Future State work continues to evolve, and this type of feedback is important to help us with this ongoing effort.”
The initiative is designed to improve the ability of the IRS to fulfill its mission in the years to come. The IRS wants to enhance and expand services for all taxpayers, to provide the services they need, whether in-person or online. The goal is to make interactions with the IRS more timely and easier for taxpayers and tax professionals.
A central component of the plan is the creation of online taxpayer accounts as a new option through which taxpayers will be able to obtain information from and interact with the IRS.
The Future State Initiative does not contemplate replacing current methods of customer service, such as phone assistance, the IRS release said; rather it envisions finding alternative ways for people to receive the specific services they need.
Elements of the IRS’s evolving Future State were displayed at an exhibit at each tax forum in 2016. Thousands of forum attendees visited the exhibit.
In a survey, the IRS asked tax professionals what changes in the Future State could have the biggest impact on the experience taxpayers have with the IRS. More than 1,300 tax professionals responded to the question. According to the IRS news release, more than 30 percent of respondents cited enhanced support and tools for taxpayers, and overall more than 20 percent cited agile, efficient and effective operations as the areas of greatest impact.
Another question asked tax professionals how they see the Future State affecting their work. Nearly half of more than 600 tax professional respondents noted they saw the Future State expanding their role as a service partner, the news release states.
The IRS will be using these results as well as other feedback to help guide ongoing work as well as prepare for 2017’s tax forums. Throughout 2016, the IRS has also been talking with a variety of groups across the agency’s business divisions to get insight and feedback about various changes taking place at the IRS.
In addition, the IRS will continue to solicit input from partner groups about its Future State efforts, it said in its release, to help ensure the future direction of IRS changes reflects the needs of taxpayers as well as the greater tax community.
The tax forums are three-day events that provide tax professionals with the most up-to-date information on federal and state tax issues presented by experts from the IRS and partner organizations through a variety of training seminars and workshops. The forums were held during July, August and September 2016.
Online account shows strong early use
As part of the tax forums in 2016, tax professionals received a demonstration of the online tax account application.
In November 2016, the IRS went from the demo to an actual launch of the online tax account application on IRS.gov, which provides information to taxpayers with straightforward balance-owed inquiries in a secure, easy and convenient way. This new Finding Out How Much You Owe feature, paired with existing IRS online payment options, increases taxpayer self-service options, the IRS news release states.
In nearly four weeks from the launch of the online account, taxpayers checked their account balance over 76,000 times, the IRS release states. And taxpayers used the new offering to make more than 8,600 tax payments, worth over $27.6 million, through the direct pay feature. Taxpayers also completed more than 2,100 installment agreements through the online payment agreement.
In subsequent phases of the online account, the IRS will gradually add features, it said in its release, providing taxpayers with additional tax information and the ability to complete more tasks online.
Koskinen said the expansions of the IRS online services is one example of the service’s Future State work. He said:
It’s important to keep in mind that the Future State is not a ‘big bang’ initiative where everything is put in place all at once; rather the work on the new online account feature reflects our focus on careful, incremental steps to make sure each process works well. Feedback from the tax community is a critical part of that effort.
Koskinen also noted that IRS employees remain a critical part of the service’s Future State effort – especially in providing in-person service to taxpayers as well as tax professionals.
“While technology and new service options are important parts of Future State, you can’t overlook the continuing need to have in-person service available to taxpayers over the phone and in-person,” Koskinen said. “Our hope is that expanded online options will provide help to taxpayers who prefer that option, while also freeing up valuable resources for people who need help over the phone or in-person.”