IRS’ ‘Where’s My Return’ Tools Needs Updates Amid Lack Of Agency Plans, Watchdog Says

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The Government Accountability Office regards modernizing taxpayer digital resources as a high priority item despite a reported lack of funding.

As the 2022 tax deadline comes to a close, an oversight report recommends the Internal Revenue Service update several of their customer service features, particularly the “Where’s My Refund” option online.

Released on Monday, the report, authored by the Government Accountability Office, noted that over the course of the 2021 tax season, taxpayers endured delays in their refunds mainly due to an “unprecedented” number of returns that demanded manual review. 

Customer service options like telephone assistance and online refund information are two areas the GAO recommends the IRS update. Despite the negative feedback and the fact that this tool is the IRS’ most popular offering, GAO authors note that the IRS has no plans for modernizing its online offering regarding return updates.

“Where’s My Refund provides limited information to taxpayers and taxpayers’ satisfaction with the application has declined,” the report writes. “Further, IRS recognizes that ‘Where’s My Refund’ has limitations, but it does not have plans to modernize the existing application.”

The report cites IRS officials stating that the lack of planned updates to its user experience stems from limited information technology resources funding to improve the agency’s overall technological infrastructure.

The GAO identified that one of the main problems with the Where’s My Refund tool include a limited amount of individual refund status information, specifically details between tax refund approval and submission statuses. 

Back in October 2021, IRS officials reportedly confirmed that the Where’s My Refund tool is almost 20 years old, and is not capable of accessing data repositories that provide more detail into a taxpayer’s return. 

Although funding concerns for modernization remain, IRS officials told GAO auditors that they do intend to make some smaller changes to the online resource. These took place starting in January 2022. These changes include adding generalized messages on the “Where’s My Refund” page addressing possible delays on tax returns. 

“We recognize that IRS has significant long-term efforts underway to modernize and upgrade its IT infrastructure and components,” the report said. “Further, we understand that modernizing Where’s My Refund will take planning and resources given the application’s current technical limitations. Nevertheless, providing taxpayers with useful, current online information on their refund status is consistent with IRS’s Taxpayer Experience Strategy, in which IRS has committed to providing a seamless online experience to taxpayers by providing services through the channel of the taxpayer’s choice.”

The GAO isn’t the only federal organization keen on having the IRS update its digital taxpayer resources. The report cited the Department of the Treasury as another agency that lists updating Where’s My Refund as a high priority item for the IRS. 

Improving customer service between citizens and government organizations has been a priority for the Biden administration. Between President Biden’s executive order directing federal agencies to improve their customer outreach systems and the $14.1 billion proposed in fiscal year 2023 funding for the IRS alone, multiple federal entities support improving communication for taxpayers. 

$310 million of this funding is intended for IRS Business Systems Modernization specifically, with the goal of accelerating “the development of new digital tools to enable better communication between taxpayers and the IRS.”