- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2001

A Treasury Department sampling of service at IRS walk-in centers this year found agents gave taxpayers incorrect or insufficient advice on their tax questions 73 percent of the time — a slight improvement over last year's 81 percent error rate.
Pamela Gardiner, the Treasury Department's inspector general for audits, said that in one case, one of her investigators was left waiting 90 minutes and then was only given a stack of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) papers and told to "do her homework" to figure out the answer to her problem.
Another investigator, who visited a walk-in site at 11 a.m., was told the agency wasn't answering any more questions that day, and was told to come back the next day. In a third case, investigators reported witnessing one unemployed taxpayer turned away from the counter frustrated and in tears after being unable to resolve a question she had involving a $200 claim for child care expenses.
"The IRS has not yet overcome its inability to provide quality customer service to taxpayers requesting assistance at IRS offices," Miss Gardiner said. "Taxpayers continue to be denied service, or receive inappropriate answers to their tax law questions."
More than 9 million taxpayers use the walk-in centers, which IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti reorganized last October to give taxpayers better service.
Miss Gardiner's investigators visited a sampling of 49 IRS taxpayer assistance centers across the country between Jan. 29 and Feb. 9 to see the results during this year's tax filing season.
The investigators found no geographical pattern in bad answers. "The IRS employees consistently provided incorrect and insufficient answers to our questions nationwide," Miss Gardiner said.
The investigators found:
* Of 90 questions involving questions of tax law, 61 were answered incorrectly.
* Service was denied seven times.
* IRS employees were rude or discourteous in four cases.
* In 15 cases, the investigators had to wait more than 15 minutes to see an agent. In one case, investigators said they waited almost two hours to ask their questions, while agents were in the back room talking.
John Dalrymple, commissioner of the IRS wage and investment division, which oversees the walk-in offices, said he wasn't surprised by the findings.
Mr. Dalrymple said his division's own investigation found IRS agents giving wrong advice 50 percent of the time, and 21 percent of customers turned away without service.
"We are working to provide accuracy in the tax law information we provide," Mr. Dalrymple said. He said additional employees are being hired for the walk-in centers, and new manuals are being prepared for IRS agents to better answer taxpayer questions. The manuals should be ready by October 2002, he said.

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