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January 29, 2009

Robert Sperling
(202) 622-6500

TIGTA Releases Report on the Impact of Economic Stimulus Payments On IRS Call Volumes

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration today publicly released its review of the impact the Economic Stimulus Rebate Act of 2008 had on toll-free telephone access to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2008 and the IRS's plans to handle an anticipated increase in phone calls during the 2009 Filing Season.

The review is the latest in a series of TIGTA audit designed to provide Congress with an independent assessment of the IRS's 2008 performance in planning and executing the delivery of rebate checks to more than 130 million taxpayers.

"Prior TIGTA reports concluded that the IRS successfully planned the payments and accurately calculated how much taxpayers received," commented J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. "However, taxpayers did experience difficulties in obtaining information from the IRS via telephone during the Filing Season because of the large number of inquiries about the rebates."

As a result of taxpayer interest in the rebates, the number of calls after the 2008 Filing Season increased, TIGTA's new report found. Between April 19 and August 30, 2008, the IRS received approximately 125 million call attempts from taxpayers, TIGTA found.

"The increased volume of taxpayer calls resulted in increased wait times and busy signals, with the average caller waiting nearly 10 minutes," George said. "By contrast, the average wait time in 2007 was 4.5 minutes. In addition, the number of call attempts in which taxpayers received a busy signal or an automated message asking them to call back later increased by 20.5 million calls from 2007."

The Economic Stimulus Payments will also affect the 2009 Filing Season because the payments are a credit for Tax Year 2008, even though the payments were estimated using information reported on Tax Year 2007 returns. Individuals who qualify for a larger payment as a result of changes between their Tax Year 2007 and Tax Year 2008 returns will receive the additional amount of payment.

The IRS anticipates it will receive about 3.3 million calls regarding the stimulus rebate between January and June of 2009, which includes Filing Season. TIGTA estimates that the additional call volume could be 8.6 million if taxpayer calling patterns remain the same.

The IRS disagreed with TIGTA's estimate and stated that it is making sufficient resources available to handle the anticipated volume of calls. TIGTA recommended that the IRS amend telephone scripts to alert taxpayers waiting to speak with an assistor to longer wait times. If call volumes are higher than anticipated, the IRS should provide callers with the estimated wait time to speak with an assistor.