How the IRS is prepping its workforce of the future

As the IRS prepares to implement its vision for the next five years and beyond, the agency’s human resources shop is beginning to re-imagine how its workforce will need to change as well.

“We spent some time … looking at our own vision statement for the HR organization,” Daniel Riordan, chief human capital officer for the IRS, said at the Dec. 1 Human Capital Management Government conference in Alexandria, Virginia. “Did it really capture what we wanted to be as an HR organization, what we could bring to the table at the IRS? We thought it was time to do a little bit of rethinking and resetting.”

The IRS Future State, a plan to shift to  using more online accounts and fewer in-person services, is forcing Riordan and his team to re-think their approach to customer service, training and talent management for the agency’s workforce of about 84,000 employees. Budget cuts have forced the IRS to get smaller.  It has lost 15,000 employees over the past five years.

Specifically, Riordan said he’s thinking about the skill sets the IRS will need to meet the demands of the Future State Program and the agency will train current employees on that expertise. The agency is doing a holistic assessment of what skills the workforce has now.

“We’re going to need new career path models,” Riordan said. “We’re going to have new positions. Those folks coming in are going to want to know where can they go in the organization, how they are going to fit in.”

Customer service has and always will be a major component of the agency’s mission. The IRS started a few pilots with some of its customer service representatives working from remote locations.

“We don’t have a lot of money,” Riordan said. “Real estate is very expensive. So we’re looking at some pilots now. Our CSRs are going to be answering and taking calls remotely. It’s working well.”

Once the agency digitizes more of its information and creates a space where more of its employees can access it from a mobile environment, the IRS will be ready to move a greater portion of its workforce to a virtual environment.

The IRS has received criticism in the past from the Taxpayer Advocate and others that the Future State is too aggressive in shifting its services to an online environment.

“We’ll preserve the phone contact,” Riordan said. “It’s very expensive. We know to the dollar, to the penny, how much that costs for each interaction. We know how much each interaction costs. We’re going to preserve that. That’s very, very important; a lot of taxpayers need that very personal service over the phone.”

The IRS’ Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TAC), which are located across the country, initially approached their work on a first-come, first-serve basis. That approach was difficult for the employees who worked in those centers, Riordan said, because they simply didn’t have enough staff members to handle the workload.

The agency last year started another pilot at 44 locations, which let taxpayers schedule an appointment to visit a TAC and receive service in person.

IRS phone representatives answered nearly 1 million calls on the appointment line from October 2015 to June 2016. About half of the taxpayers who called to schedule an appointment got their issue resolved over the phone and did not have to travel to a TAC.

Roughly 90 percent of taxpayers who called the appointment hotline received help within 30 minutes of their arrival at the center, a 40 percent improvement over the previous year when TAC lines were long.

Feedback has been positive, Riordan said, and IRS employees will use this procedure at 376 centers by the end of this year.

The IRS is also revamping its knowledge management system. In the past, the IRS human resources shop focused its efforts on specific business areas within the agency. Now, that’s changed, Riordan said.

“You don’t have to be in one business unit to have access to that business unit’s knowledge management information, the virtual libraries, the communities of practice, the job aids,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that it’s widely available to all employees so there’s transparency.

In the meantime, the IRS is working with the Treasury Department on developing an integrated talent management system, which Riordan said should be online sometime next year.

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