- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2015

They may not be getting help on the phones, but taxpayers this year are increasingly making use of IRS.gov, the tax agency’s website, to answer their questions.

Visits are up by 11 percent over last year, including 15 million in the past week alone, the agency said Friday. Most of the inquiries are going to the IRS’s “Where’s my refund?” tool, which tracks where in the process a taxpayer’s refund is.

The IRS also said taxpayers can now get return information online, rather than having to order it by phone and wait up to 10 days for it to arrive.

The push to send customers online is not an accident.

Even as the IRS is preparing for record-bad customer service in answering phones, Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress this week that they realize they need to move beyond phones anyway.

“People ought to be able to have an efficient way in the digital economy and the digital world ‘to deal’ with us the way they deal with their banks, with their financial institutions today,” Mr. Koskinen said.

Just 43 percent of taxpayers’ phone calls have been answered so far this tax season, the commissioner told Congress. He blamed budget cuts he’s had to make in order to prepare for handling the Obamacare tax penalty and a foreign tax compliance scheme Congress created.

Mr. Koskinen said if he can get more money from Congress, he can boost the agency’s online tools even more.

The online refund status-check is a key test. Nearly 80 percent of taxpayers overpay the government during the course of the year and get a refund back at tax time, and Mr. Koskinen said his agency’s goal is to get the refunds out quickly and accurately, and to provide information to taxpayers about where things stand.

“We need to get more into that area. But you can’t get there for free,” he said. “You have to actually make the investments to go there.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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