As Tax Day Arrives, How is IRS Managing the Filing Season?

taxes thumbnailToday is the deadline for filing federal individual income tax returns. By this point in time, if you needed to ask IRS questions about tax laws or your account, you’ve probably already been through the process at least once. If you didn’t ask IRS a question, you probably know someone who did: in 2013, IRS received 93.5 million phone calls and 21 million pieces of correspondence. Add that to processing about 142 million tax returns and issuing more than 100 million refunds last year, and IRS has an enormous undertaking on their hands. Each year, we track how well IRS does its job during the tax filing season. Here are some of the things we found in our reviews of recent filing seasons.

Return Processing: IRS’s 2012 estimates show a savings of about $3.13 per electronically filed return. To save money, IRS has been encouraging taxpayers to file returns electronically instead of on paper. In the 2013 filing season, 84 percent of individual tax returns were e-filed.

Telephone service and correspondence: As mentioned previously, IRS received 93.5 million phone calls and 21 million pieces of correspondence in the 2013 tax filing season from taxpayers asking tax law questions or seeking information about their accounts. One way IRS tries to manage the phone call volume is through prerecorded answers to commonly asked questions. These are much cheaper for IRS to answer—38 cents per call according to IRS—than if a taxpayer were to speak to an IRS representative, which costs $33 per call. IRS representatives answered 45.8 million calls while IRS automation answered another 20.4 million calls. Callers who wanted to speak to a representative had to wait 15.5 minutes on average. As with telephone service, IRS struggles to keep up with its correspondence. In the 2013 filing season, almost half of the correspondence was overage, meaning IRS did not meet its own goals for response time. In both areas, we found that the widening gaps highlighted the importance of fully implementing our 2012 recommendation to identify specific steps to manage service based on assessments of time frames, demand, capabilities, and resources.

Website: Use of the IRS website increased in 2013, which agency officials attributed to the site’s being redesigned and the launch of new tools such as, “Where’s My Amended Return?” However, the IRS website does not currently allow taxpayers to access their accounts. Therefore, we recommended that IRS implement a long-term strategy to improve web services for taxpayers.  Last month, IRS officials told us that a long-term strategy for improving web services will be completed in February 2015.


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact: James R. White, whitej@gao.gov.
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A Look at Health Care in Underserved Populations for National Public Health Week

Health Care imageEach year, the first full week of April marks National Public Health Week. During this time, people gather to recognize contributions to public health and highlight issues that are important to improving health across the country.

This year’s theme is “Public Health: Start Here,” focusing on being proactive about health and safety. From the beginning of life (maternal health), to before disaster strikes (emergency preparedness), National Public Health Week is putting a spotlight on healthy beginnings. Relatedly, we have reported on underserved populations, including American Indians and Alaska Natives, who face challenges and unique health care needs that make it difficult for them to take a proactive role in their overall health.

Some challenges or barriers to health care for these groups include:

  • living in remote areas that may be far away from health care providers;
  • higher rates of chronic diseases compared with the rest of the U.S. population; and
  • significant mental health concerns, including higher than average suicide rates among young people and young adults.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is responsible for providing health care to Native Americans and Alaska Natives through a system of health care facilities and contract care. We have identified multiple ways to improve this care for American Indians and Alaska Natives. These include:

Perhaps some of these ideas can help foster healthy new beginnings for these underserved populations.


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AskGAOLive: IRS Securing Financial and Taxpayer Data

Web chat graphicWhat happens to all the personal data you send to IRS with your tax return? Join us for a chat about IRS controls to secure your data from threats, today at 2:00pm ET. You can send us your questions in advance via e-mail or on Twitter using #AskGAOLive.

In the course of collecting taxes, the Internal Revenue Service handles sensitive financial and personal taxpayer information. It relies on its information systems and security controls to keep that information secure. Gregory Wilshusen, a director in GAO’s Information Technology team, will discuss the findings of GAO’s recent evaluation and answer your questions.

Can’t tune in at 2:00?

  • We will update this blog post with a YouTube recording of the chat when it is available.
  • Read our recent report on IRS information security.
  • Listen to our podcast with director Greg Wilshusen.


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2014 Duplication and Cost Savings Report

Duplication icon

As the fiscal pressures facing the government continue to mount, so too does the need for executive branch agencies and Congress to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs and activities. Today, we released our 4th annual report on federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives that have duplicative goals or activities. Continue reading

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Government Accountability Office: What’s in a Name?

When we were created in 1921, “GAO” stood for “General Accounting Office.”

2013_GAO_Exterior_01That year, the Budget and Accounting Act transferred auditing responsibilities, accounting, and claims functions from the Treasury Department to a new agency, independent of the executive branch, with a broad mandate to investigate how federal dollars are spent.

In our early years, GAO primarily reviewed government vouchers and receipts, so “accounting” fit the bill. Over the decades, our work grew to include program evaluations and policy analyses, and legal opinions and decisions. Today, while financial auditing is an important part of the services we offer, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading

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How Data, Leadership, and Collaboration Can Improve Government Results

Government thumbnail imageEffective performance management helps the federal government to improve outcomes in areas that affect nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives, from education, healthcare, and housing to national and homeland security.

To that end, the Office of Management and Budget released new agency and cross-agency priority goals in the 2015 President’s Budget. These goals stem from the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010, known as GPRAMA. This Act requires federal agencies to collect performance information and use it to address fiscal, management, and performance challenges. Continue reading

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Podcast on Department of Defense “Quick Look”

GAO Podcast IconEach year, we publish an annual report titled, “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs,” more commonly referred to as the “Quick Look.”  In addition to providing brief summaries of numerous U.S. defense programs, the report provides insights on the Department of Defense’s acquisition process and serves as a valuable resource for Congress, congressional staff, and the public.

Today, we released the 2014 edition of the Quick Look. Check out the report, and listen to a podcast with Michael Sullivan, a director in our Acquisition and Sourcing Management team, discussing our work on weapon systems.


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GAO’s Defense Capabilities and Management Team

thumbnail_defenseGAO’s workforce is organized largely by subject area, with most employees working in 1 of 14 mission teams. Today we’ll be putting the spotlight on the Defense Capabilities and Management (DCM) team, which supports congressional oversight of the Department of Defense (DOD) as it modernizes to meet a broad array of threats in the 21st century. Continue reading

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Social and Digital Media at GAO

GAO all social media graphicGAO supports the Congress in meeting its legislative responsibilities and helps improve the performance and ensure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people. As our audiences—Congress, congressional staff, and the American people—become increasingly active on social and digital media platforms, we are also looking to those platforms to bring GAO’s work to them where they are. Continue reading

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Podcast on Electronic Health Records

GAO Podcast IconThe use and exchange of electronic health records among health care providers could potentially improve outcomes and quality of care for patients. GAO recently released reports on participation in electronic health records programs and HHS efforts to address information exchange challenges.

Listen to a podcast with Linda Kohn, a director in our Health Care team, discussing our work on electronic health records.


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