IRS initiates pilot program to thwart line-jumping on PPS calls

By Martha Waggoner

The IRS has begun a pilot program that is meant to thwart line-jumping services that let those practitioners who pay a fee to a private company move ahead in the phone line so they can get their tax questions answered more quickly.

In its e-News for Tax Professionals, the IRS said it is piloting a program that requires callers to the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) line to repeat phrases before being transferred to an IRS customer service representative. This pilot uses speech recognition to help ensure a live person is calling and not a mechanical device.

The new process is intended to improve customer service by reducing unnecessary wait times, the IRS said Friday in its e-News note, which provided no other details.

"To the extent that these changes will improve services for all practitioners, we're pleased," said Ed Karl, CPA, CGMA, the AICPA's vice president–Tax Policy & Advocacy.

The long hold times to reach an IRS customer service representative and, in many cases, the inability to talk with a representative at all, were the focus of a letter in August from the AICPA to the IRS director of customer account services in the Wage and Investment Division.

The letter, signed by Jan Lewis, CPA, chair of the AICPA Tax Executive Committee, included data from the midyear report that the national taxpayer advocate issued to Congress in June 2022. The IRS received 78% more calls by midyear 2022 than it did at a similar point in 2019 and answered 10% of the calls this year, compared with 25% in 2019.

The pilot program is directed at companies such as enQ, which uses bots to get in the queue for IRS service lines. EnQ clients who dial into the company lines then swap places with the bots at the front of the phone line, the Associated Press reported in February, ahead of a congressional hearing about enQ's services. EnQ founder and CEO Andrew Valiente did not respond to an email from the Journal of Accountancy.

Timothy McCormally, acting director of the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility, spoke about the pilot program last week at the American Bar Association Section of Taxation meeting, Tax Notes reported.

Under the program, callers who successfully repeat a phrase are transferred to the IRS, while those who cannot are disconnected, McCormally said in an email Monday. Since high-volume or auto-dialers typically cannot speak phrases without making a significant investment in technology, "it's anticipated that auto-dialer calls will be disconnected," he wrote.

"The IRS continues to receive heavy call volumes and is taking steps to improve our service to callers like employing voice bot and chatbot technology and customer callback," McCormally wrote.

Among the many recommendations in the AICPA letter was improvement of the automatic return call system, or customer callback.

"The automatic return call system is a greatly appreciated feature being offered by the IRS. We understand its use is being expanded, which we support. A return call system is consistent with one of AICPA's Priority Guidance Plan recommendations regarding utilizing an online system to communicate with taxpayers and practitioners," the letter said.

— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Martha Waggoner at Martha.Waggoner@aicpa-cima.com.

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