21.3.2  Taxpayer Contacts Resulting From Electronic Tax Law Assistance Inquiries

Manual Transmittal

December 06, 2013

Purpose

(1) This transmits revised IRM 21.3.2, Taxpayer Contacts - Taxpayer Contacts Resulting from Electronic Tax Law Assistance Inquiries.

Material Changes

(1) Various editorial changes were made throughout IRM to update text and reference material.

(2) Revised IRM 21.3.2.3(2) - IRM 21.8.3, NMF International Adjustments was deemed obsolete effective October 1, 2013. The material previously contained in 21.8.3 is incorporated into IRM 21.7.12, Non-Master File Accounts (NMF) Adjustments.

Effect on Other Documents

IRM 21.3.2 dated December 7, 2012 (effective January 31, 2013) is superseded.

Audience

Electronic Tax Law Assistance Employees

Effective Date

(01-01-2014)

James P. Clifford
Director, Accounts Management
Wage and Investment Division

21.3.2.1  (11-18-2008)
Electronic Tax Law Assistance Overview

  1. This section provides information on the receipt of taxpayer inquiries via the Electronic Tax Law Assistance (ETLA) Program. Taxpayers who use the IRS Internet Web Site IRS.gov have the option of submitting general tax law and procedural questions via the Internet. They enter their question on the Help with Tax Questions page of the IRS Internet Web Site and provide their e-mail address (the taxpayers do not send actual e-mail messages). Our responses are in the form of regular e-mail messages. Exhibit 21.3.2-1 provides an overview of the ETLA process in flowchart format.

  2. We do not answer tax account or refund questions via the ETLA system.

  3. The ETLA Program is currently worked in designated Wage and Investment (W&I) Accounts Management sites.

  4. Our goal is to answer ETLA questions in three business days.

  5. The ETLA operating system is referred to as Mailman.

  6. Within this section, you will find guidelines for:

    • Reading and interpreting the tax question

    • Creating your response

    • Preparing answers that are complete and professional in tone and appearance

    • Using pre-prepared (canned) answers

    • Referring questions to other functions

    • Using reference and research materials

    • Reviewing your answer

  7. Our goal is to achieve uniformity so answers to similar questions are substantially the same at each site.

21.3.2.2  (03-20-2006)
What Is Electronic Tax Law Assistance?

  1. Electronic Tax Law Assistance refers to the assistance given taxpayers who submit tax law and procedural questions via the IRS Internet Web Site at www.IRS.gov.

  2. Currently, taxpayers MUST submit their question via the Help with Tax Questions page on www.IRS.gov. They use a template which allows them to enter a question and their e-mail address, but the question submitted is not in the form of an e-mail message.

  3. Our response is in the form of a standard e-mail message.

  4. A statement generates automatically with each inquiry acknowledging receipt of the inquiry back to the taxpayer through our web site.

21.3.2.3  (01-01-2014)
Research

  1. ETLA customer service representatives (CSRs) use the same reference materials (e.g., the Electronic Probe and Response Guide http://serp.enterprise.irs.gov/databases/irm-sup.dr/current/itla/itla-home.htm, e-P&R)/Interactive Tax Law Assistant (ITLA), Pub. 15, Pub. 7, and publications covering specific topics, etc.) used to respond to telephone and written inquires.

  2. CSRs answering questions in the international category (aliens and U.S. citizens living abroad) follow appropriate guidelines in IRM 21.8.1, IMF International Adjustments, IRM 21.8.2, BMF International Adjustments, and IRM 21.7.12, Non-Master File (NMF) Adjustments.

  3. There is a variety of on-line reference sources available to ETLA CSRs. In addition to the "canned" (or pre-prepared) answers in the Mailman system, CSRs have access to Servicewide Electronic Research Program (SERP), IRWeb, Westlaw/LexisNexis, and the IRS Internet Web Site at www.IRS.gov.

    Note:

    Cutting and pasting from Westlaw/LexisNexis or Commerce Clearing House (CCH) to include in an e-mail message or written response to an individual is acceptable practice. However, taking such material and posting it on a web site or a Local Area Network (LAN) for multiple users is not acceptable. The terms of service of Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis, and CCH all permit providing a single copy of a copyrighted document to a third party such as a taxpayer and/or power of attorney as long as the document carries a statement –"Reprinted with the permission of [name of company]" and the third party is notified that they cannot reproduce or redistribute the document. For detailed information regarding the Copyright Provisions of Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis, and CCH under their terms of service, visit ReferenceNet (http://rnet.web.irs.gov/). You may also visit http://rnet.web.irs.gov/Westlaw/resources/copyright.asp (for Westlaw), http://rnet.web.irs.gov/LexisNexis/resources/copyright.asp (for Lexis-Nexis), and http://rnet.web.irs.gov/CCH/resources/copyright.asp (for CCH).

  4. CSRs using Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS) terminals are restricted from accessing other Internet sites, either directly or from www.IRS.gov. CSRs using non-IDRS terminals have full access to the Internet.

  5. See IRM 21.3.2.2 and IRM 21.3.2.3 for information on doing searches in Mailman, on the IRS web site at www.IRS.gov and general Internet searches.

  6. See Exhibit 21.3.2-4 for descriptions of some helpful online reference sources.

  7. See IRM 21.3.2.4.4(4) for the guidelines for referring taxpayers to non-IRS web sites.

21.3.2.4  (01-01-2013)
Procedures

  1. The response time objective for answering ETLA questions is three business days. Messages older than 72 hours (excluding weekends) are considered overage.

  2. Always begin with the oldest message (first message) in the queue and proceed in that order so that we answer questions in the order they were received (first in, first out).

  3. Skip the message if there are remarks in the reply window indicating that another CSR has already taken some action or initiated research to answer the question.

  4. When appropriate, use "canned" (pre-prepared) answers to address customer inquiries. This improves productivity, accuracy, and the consistency of responses.

    1. The Auto-Search feature systemically searches for a canned answer that MAY answer the customer's question in full or in part.

    2. CSRs must always activate Auto-Search to check for a canned answer before creating a response.

    3. See IRM 21.3.2.4.2 for additional guidelines for using canned answers and the Auto-Search feature.

  5. Depending on the complexity, you may determine that a question is outside the scope of the service provided per IRM 21.3.2.4.9.

  6. Approach each message as you would a phone call; translate "active listening" to "careful reading."

    Note:

    The Centralized Quality Review site has noted that many errors occur because CSRs do not read the question carefully and thus provide answers that are non-responsive or incomplete.

  7. Follow procedures in IRM 21.3.5.4 Referral Procedure for appropriate referral.

    If And Then
    1) This is not a Federal tax question (e.g., Social Security Administration (SSA), Department of Labor (DOL), state taxing authority, child support payment issues)   Refer the question to the organization identified. If the contact information can be located, provide the taxpayer with any of the following: name, address, phone number, or web site to direct the question to the required agency.
    2) The question relates to:
    1. Aliens and U.S. Citizens Abroad

    2. Electronic Filing

    3. Magnetic Media.

      Reclassify to the appropriate category following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.7.
    3) The question relates to:
    1. Estate and Gift

    2. Excise Tax

    3. Employment Tax

    4. Partnership and Corporation

    5. Trust (or Fiduciary)

    Is out of scope of Customer Account Services training.

    Note:

    CSRs should answer general procedural questions that they are qualified to answer.

    Reclassify to the appropriate specialty category following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.7.
    4) You have not received training and do not know how to research the taxpayer's question. Another CSR working your local ETLA program can answer it. Move on to the next question.
    CSRs in your local ETLA program have not been trained on the topic. Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    5) The taxpayer asks for general information on a topic.   Reply using the appropriate canned answer, if available, and/or refer the taxpayer to the IRS Internet Web Site at www.IRS.gov for additional information or to download relevant publications or forms.
    6) Taxpayer requests copies of Revenue Rulings, Revenue Procedures, notices, announcements or Chief Counsel Advice (e.g., Tax Advice Memorandum (TAM).)   If the item is short, it may be copied into your response from on-line sources. For longer items, use the canned answer which tells the requester how to access these items via the IRS web site and other sources. DO NOT copy long items into the reply window.
    7) The question involves Tax Exempt/Government Entities (TE/GE), or Exempt Organizations (EO) issues. It involves:
    1. an application for approval of tax exempt status (Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code or 1024) Application of Recognition of Exemption OMB No. 1545-0057 Under Section 501(a).

    2. a determination letter

    3. Pub. 78

    4. Form 8734; or

    5. change in exempt status

    Use the TE/GE canned answer if it addresses the question. You may refer customers to the TE/GE organization web site at http://tege.web.irs.gov/ to confirm that the question is answered there. Otherwise, refer customers to the TE/GE toll-free number at 877-829-5500. DO NOT refer customers with account questions to this number.
    It involves an account, returns processing, claims, penalty, credit, or other issues Follow the procedures in IRM 21.7.7, Exempt Organizations and Tax Exempt Bonds .
    8) The question involves TE/GE Employee Plans (EP) issues.   You may refer customers to the EP web site at: www.IRS.gov/bus_info/ep/ if you determine that the question is answered there. Otherwise, refer all customers to the TE/GE toll-free number at 877-829-5500.
    9) The question contains complex issues involving tax law, revenue or private letter rulings, regulations, or court decisions.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6, unless it meets the reclassification criteria in If/Then table items (2) and (3).
    10) The taxpayer wants to report someone, he/she believes to be involved in tax fraud.   Use the "Fraud" canned answer to advise the taxpayer how to report this.
    11) There is evidence of fraud on the part of the taxpayer who submitted the inquiry.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    12) The taxpayer asks about the status of a refund.   For current year refunds, refer the taxpayer to Where's My Refund or 800-829-1954 using the refund question canned answer.
    13) The inquiry involves an account question.   Refer the taxpayer to 800-829-1040 using the "account" question canned answer.
    14) The taxpayer complains about unsuccessful attempts to reach the IRS by phone about an account matter. Provides a phone number Refer the inquiry to the appropriate area to call the taxpayer using Form 4442, Inquiry Referral. Send a reply advising the taxpayer when to expect to hear from us.
    15) The taxpayer complains about difficulty getting through on the 1040 toll-free number.   If appropriate, use the "apology" canned answer in Mailman that addresses hours of service on the 800-829-1040 number.
    16) The taxpayer indicates that he/she has written or contacted the IRS several times on an issue, but received no reply or the case meets other Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) criteria in IRM 13.1.7.2 Taxpayer Case Criteria.   Refer the inquiry to the Taxpayer Advocate. Prepare Form 911, Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance (And Application for Taxpayer Assistance Order), if enough information is provided. Otherwise, give the customer the TAS toll-free number (877-777-4778). Use the TAS canned answer for this purpose (Tax Topic 104).
    17) The taxpayer requests an e-mail address where he/she can send a message to the IRS Commissioner.   Provide the following address: *IRS.Commissioner@IRS.gov. DO NOT volunteer this address--only provide if requested by the taxpayer.

    Note:

    The asterisk (*) is part of the address.

    18) The inquiry is from a Congressional office. Is a tax law question Refer to the local State Government Liaison using Form 4442, Inquiry Referral. See item 19 in the If/Then Table for more information.
    Is an account question Refer to the local Taxpayer Advocate using Form 4442. See the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) web site http://tasnew.web.irs.gov/TASdirectory/ for a list of local TAS contacts by state. Advise the sender that the inquiry has been referred to the TAS and they will be contacted within 7 days.
    19) The inquiry is from another government agency.   Refer to the local State Government Liaison using Form 4442. A listing of State Governmental Liaison contacts is available from the Communications & Liaison (C&L) web site. Advise the sender that his/her inquiry has been referred to the Governmental Liaison and he/she will be contacted within 7 days. (The C&L web site may be accessed from IRWeb.irs.gov).
    20) The question contains obscene or threatening language.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    21) The taxpayer complains about treatment by an IRS employee.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    22) The taxpayer complains about a previous ETLA reply or a reply received from another IRS source. You can clarify the matter. Respond appropriately.
    You are not certain how to clarify the matter Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    23) You can provide a partial response but there are other issues that need to be addressed in a specialized category (e.g., Magnetic Media, Electronic Filing or International)   Prepare a partial response and move the message to the Admin. Queue so the administrative reviewer can coordinate the final response.
    24) The taxpayer threatens suicide, either directly or indirectly.   Refer the message to the manager or lead immediately following the procedures for suicide threats received in correspondence in IRM 21.1.3.12, Suicide Threats.

    Note:

    Do not move to the Admin Queue.

    25) The inquiry is from a person who identifies him/herself as a journalist, writer, or reporter.   Refer the inquiry to the local (or designated) Media Relations office using Form 4442. Send the customer an interim response advising that the inquiry is being referred to the IRS Media Relations office for response.
    26) The customer requests forms or publications. Provides a complete mailing address. Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    27) The customer requests forms or publications. Does not include a mailing address. Use the "forms and publications" canned answer which provides the various methods available for requesting forms and publications.

    Note:

    DO NOT respond by requesting the customer's mailing address.

    28) The customer requests IRS statistics of any kind.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    29) The customer complains about or makes suggestions for improving the content or format of an IRS form or publication.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    30) The customer offers comments about or suggestions for improving the IRS web site.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    31) The customer reports technical problems related to the IRS web site such as problems downloading or broken links.   Move the message to the Admin Queue following the procedures in IRM 21.3.2.4.6.
    32) The inquiry is from a contractor (or anyone) seeking to do business with the IRS.   Use the "Solicitations To Do Business with the IRS" canned answers.
  8. Keep these basic rules in mind when preparing your response:

    • We provide information, NOT advice.

    • Make the taxpayer aware of the criteria used to answer the question. It is the taxpayer's decision how to file his/her tax return.

    • Our job is to communicate the IRS's position to the taxpayer, not to defend it.

    • Do not engage in tax planning. Our job is to help taxpayers comply with the tax laws. Taxpayers who wish counsel on tax shelters or estate planning should consult professional financial experts or do their own research.

    • Refer students, who are preparing research papers on issues related to the Internal Revenue Code, to their nearest law library and/or advise to do their own Internet research.

21.3.2.4.1  (03-20-2006)
Creating Your Response

  1. Reread complex or multi-part questions to make sure you understand what is being asked.

  2. Begin your response with wording that indicates to the taxpayer that you understood the question.

    • If the answer depends on facts or circumstances that are not specifically addressed in the question, state your assumptions.

    • If you do not understand the question, or the taxpayer has not provided the necessary information, say so in your response.

    • Ask the taxpayer to provide the additional information (be specific) in a subsequent message if the answer does not address the question adequately.

  3. You must address each question asked by the taxpayer.

  4. Your response must be complete and accurate without overwhelming the taxpayer with extraneous information. Answer the question as specifically as possible. Generally, shorter is better.

  5. Use canned answers when appropriate, modifying if necessary to address the taxpayer's specific question. Do not use a canned answer that contains information on a topic but does not address the taxpayer's specific question.

  6. Do not copy long revenue procedures, revenue rulings, notices, etc. into your response (you may copy short items). Use the canned answer which tells customers how to download these items from the IRS Internet Web Site.

  7. In general, do not provide the items referenced in (6) above as your only response to the taxpayer's question without providing additional explanation, unless the person making the request is a tax professional who specifically requested a copy of the document.

  8. Always cite the publication, form, or other reference used for your answer, if applicable.

    Note:

    A statement generates automatically with each response telling the taxpayer how to download or request IRS forms and publications via www.irs.gov or by telephone

    .

  9. If the taxpayer refers to an earlier ETLA inquiry on the same issue, use "Message Query" to locate the previous message to review the response. If the first message is still in queue, you should address both inquiries.

    Note:

    The "Message Count" feature on the question screen gives the number of open questions by that customer currently in queue.

  10. If a taxpayer refers to an earlier unsuccessful search for information in an IRS publication, do not refer him or her back to that same publication unless you are certain that the answer is in the publication and can cite the page number, column, and paragraph.

21.3.2.4.2  (11-18-2008)
Using Canned Answers and References

  1. Canned Answers- the Mailman database contains "canned" (or pre-prepared) answers that provide general information on a large variety of topics and others that address specific issues. The canned answers consist of the TeleTax Topics and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) developed from ETLA inquiries received in prior years, and other replies developed to address specific issues.

  2. Canned answers are used, when appropriate, to enhance the quality and consistency of responses. However, consider the following when choosing to use a canned answer:

    • Always read the canned answer to make sure that it includes the information you need.

    • The canned answer should address the specific question asked. If necessary, modify the information to address the specific question.

    • Do not send excessively long canned answers that include information unrelated to the taxpayer's question. Delete unrelated material.

    • If it is useful to combine canned answers, delete extraneous information and use a transition sentence between topics.

  3. The Auto-Search feature automatically searches for a canned answer that MAY address the question in full or in part. Auto-Search search's for canned answers using significant words in the customer's question. The query extracts a set number of canned answers that MAY respond to the question.

    1. Always use Auto-Search to check for a canned answer before creating a response. This improves productivity, accuracy, and the consistency of responses.

    2. CSRs must review the suggested canned answers to determine if any address the customer's question in full or in part.

      Note:

      Auto-Search selects canned answers that have matching words but the selected items may not address the customer's question.

      Note:

      In some instances Auto-Search will not extract a canned answer that addresses the question because the question does not include words that match the canned answer. CSRs must follow the steps suggested in (e) below to check for a canned answer.

    3. Canned answers MUST be modified as needed to fully address the customer's question.

    4. Canned answers may be combined with additional information written by the CSR.

    5. If Auto-Search does not extract an appropriate canned answer, you may do "key words" searches, modify the question, or delete the question and compose a new one while in the Auto-Search window to check for the existence of a canned answer.

      Note:

      Modifying text in the Auto-Search window will not change the customer's question.

  4. The canned answer database can also be accessed with the "Find Canned Answer" or "Insert Canned Answer" buttons. See Exhibit 21.3.2-2for additional information.

  5. References are web site addresses on the IRS Internet Web Site (www.irs.gov) and other Internet sites where you can refer taxpayers for additional information on a topic.

    • These URL links may be copied into your response.

    • See IRM 21.3.2.4.4(4) for guidelines for referring taxpayers to non-IRS web sites.

21.3.2.4.3  (03-20-2006)
"Copy and Paste" From On-Line Sources

  1. You can copy and paste information from publications and other references from SERP, IRWeb, the IRS web site (www.irs.gov), and other on-line sources.

  2. You MUST review and edit (if necessary) any material you copy into replies.

    Note:

    This prevents such things as "see Figure 22-4 below" or "as the chart on page 104 shows" from going out in your responses.

  3. Do not attempt to copy tables and charts because the coding will not translate to the Mailman format.

  4. In many instances you can paraphrase the material you might have copied and pasted into the response and make it much clearer to the taxpayer.

  5. If you quote material from a particular publication, give the taxpayer the source.

    Note:

    A statement generates automatically with each response telling the taxpayer how to download or request IRS forms and publications via www.IRS.gov or by telephone.

21.3.2.4.4  (03-20-2006)
Referring Taxpayers to Other Sources of Information

  1. Whenever possible, a referral should not be your only response (unless the issue involves a non-IRS matter). A referral should be a recommendation of where the taxpayer can find more information to supplement your response.

  2. Use Internet-based sources whenever possible.

  3. Before sending the taxpayer to a reference source, verify that it contains the information needed.

  4. When referring taxpayers to a non-IRS Web site, refer them for information only. We are not responsible for the validity of data on other sites. Include a statement such as: "Information at this site might be helpful to you. However, the IRS is not responsible for the validity of the information."

    Note:

    Lexis-Nexis are subscription (fee based) service. Do not refer taxpayers to this site for information.

21.3.2.4.5  (08-26-2008)
Review Your Answer

  1. Make sure the response you provide is accurate, complete, and presented professionally.

  2. Prior to sending a response, reread the question and proofread the answer you prepared.

  3. Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

  4. The tone of your reply is important. Make sure your words do not carry implied meaning that might inadvertently offend the taxpayer.

  5. Do not use all capital letters; this implies shouting or hostility to some people. (It is also more difficult to read a message in all caps).

  6. Do not use text messaging shorthand abbreviations/lingo.

  7. Ask yourself the following questions. Make appropriate corrections if you answer "no" to any question.

    • Did I answer the customer's question?

    • Have I addressed each (all) of the customer's questions?

    • Did I state my assumptions (for incomplete facts and circumstances)?

    • Is my answer clear and concise? (Don't overwhelm with potentially confusing information).

    • Have I taken out extraneous material from pasted sources?

    • Have I edited jargon or highly technical terminology?

    • Does my answer look and sound professional?

    • Did I check for spelling and grammatical errors?

    • Is the tone appropriate?

    • Did I review the ITLA on the tax topic to ensure that I did not miss any relevant points?

21.3.2.4.6  (01-01-2013)
Referrals to the Administrative Queue

  1. Refer questions to the Admin Queue in the following situations:

    • You need technical assistance or advice about how to respond to the message. (Remember that the message will be unavailable to others while in the Admin Queue, so if you think someone else in your group can answer it, bypass it rather than take the message out of circulation.)

    • The taxpayer asks a question about IRS business, activities, programs, etc. that is beyond the scope of Customer Account Services training.

    • The question contains obscene or threatening language.

    • There is evidence of fraud on the part of the taxpayer who submitted the inquiry.

      Note:

      Use the "fraud" canned answer if the customer wants to report someone he/she believes is involved in tax fraud.

    • The customer complains about treatment by an IRS employee.

    • The question is an exact duplicate of another question. Enter the message number of the question it duplicates and indicate "duplicate" in the Admin Review Comment window.

    • The taxpayer has given an obviously incomplete e-mail address. Example: The address does not include an @ sign followed by the name of the Internet service provider.

    • The question is gibberish or nonsensical.

    • Also, see the If/Then table in IRM 21.3.2.4for additional inquiries to refer to the Admin Queue.

  2. To move a message to the Admin Review Queue from the "Browse" view (before opening it), put a brief comment in the Admin Review Comment window to explain the reason for the referral (e.g., "duplicate" , "bad address" , "threatening language" , etc.) and click the Admin Review button.

  3. To move a message to the Admin Review Queue while in the Respond to Question screen (after opening it), enter a brief comment in the reply window to explain the reason for the referral (e.g., "duplicate" , "bad address" , "threatening language" , etc.) and click the Admin Review button.

    Note:

    Messages forwarded to the Admin Queue include the Personal Identification (PID) Number of the CSR who placed it there. However, messages returned from Admin to the general queue do not retain the PID. Therefore, if sites wish to get the question back to the same person, CSRs must include his/her name in the comments going forward initially.

21.3.2.4.7  (11-18-2008)
Reclassification of Messages

  1. If a message is received in the ETLA System in an inappropriate category, reclassify the message to the appropriate category. There are topics that are not listed on the IRS web site where customers submit ETLA questions. However, internal categories have been established on ETLA for questions pertaining to:

    • Employment Tax

    • Excise Tax

    • Individual Retirement Arrangement and

    • Section 125 Plans

  2. When messages are received in a category addressing multiple tax law topics, retain the message in the original category (providing that one of the questions relates to the original category) and respond to all of the customers questions in a single response.

  3. Topics not addressed in (1) and (2) above are answered in the category where received.

  4. To reclassify a message while in the "Browse" view (before opening it):

    • Move the cursor to the Admin Review Comment window and enter the date of the reclassification, e.g., "reclassified 11-30-11" .

    • Include the name and PID of the CSR who placed the message as part of the remarks going forward.

    • Click the down button in front of the "Reclassify" button to access the category list.

    • Highlight the appropriate category and click the "Reclassify" button.

    • The message will move to the category you selected.

    Note:

    Messages returned to the queue do not retain the PID of the assistor. Therefore, including the name and PID assist if they want to send messages back to the queue for the same assistor to send the response.

  5. To reclassify a message while in the Respond to Question window (after opening it):

    • Move the cursor to the reply window and enter the date of reclassification, e.g., "reclassified 11-30-11" .

    • Click the down arrow in front of the "Reclassify" button to access the category list.

    • Highlight the appropriate category and click the "Reclassify" button.

    • The message will move to the category you selected.

21.3.2.4.8  (03-20-2006)
Annotating the Status of Open Messages

  1. When necessary, use the reply window in the "Respond to Question" screen to annotate the status of open messages.

    • When you open a message, a message lock is activated that prevents other CSRs from accessing the same message.

    • If you want the lock to hold, you may keep the message open or exit the message without hitting the "Abort Processing" button. Message locks hold for as long as you are actively working on the system. Locks expire after four continuous hours of inactivity on the system (this includes logged in time with no action).

    • If you need more time to do research, enter your name and other necessary comments in the reply window before you exit the message so that other CSRs will know the message is being worked if the lock expires.

    • You MUST save any text entered in the reply window (using the "Save Response" button) before exiting the message.

  2. Skip messages that have comments in the reply window indicating that another CSR has already taken some action or initiated research to answer the question.

21.3.2.4.9  (03-20-2006)
Out of Scope of Customer Account Service

  1. Do not attempt to answer questions that are beyond the scope of your training. If you are not certain how to answer or research a question, move it to the Admin Queue (or skip it if your site determines locally that a more highly skilled assistor will attempt to answer questions prior to moving them to the Admin Queue). Respond to questions that you have training to answer. Individual CSRs should make beyond the scope determinations and send the beyond the scope reply to the customer, independent of the managerial review.

  2. The person managing the Admin Queue will review the question to determine if the question can be addressed by another Customer Accounts Services employee with the appropriate training.

  3. If the question falls within (2) above, the administrative reviewer will secure the appropriate assistance and respond to the question.

21.3.2.4.10  (09-19-2008)
Electronic Tax Law Assistance Employee Identification (Section 3705)

  1. Employee identification information (last name, employee personal identification (PID) number, and telephone number) generates automatically on ETLA responses.

  2. The following telephone numbers generate:

    • Category 13 (Aliens and U.S. Citizens Living Abroad), English and, Spanish (800) 829-1040

    • Category 15 (Magnetic Media or Electronic Filers) (304) 263-8700 or (866) 455-7438

    • All other categories (800) 829-1040. This telephone number only works from inside the U.S.

  3. When appropriate, answers prepared by another function or Chief Counsel that are sent from the Admin Queue should include the name and phone number and or e-mail address of the person who prepared the response. Generally, this will only apply to very specialized or complex issues requiring extensive research or other unique situations. The reply should be coordinated with the person who prepares the response. Alternately, the other person (or function) may choose to respond directly to the inquiry rather than sending the response via the ETLA system.

Exhibit 21.3.2-1 
ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE TAXPAYER CONTACTS RESULTING FROM ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE FLOWCHART

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Exhibit 21.3.2-2 
ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE SEARCHING FOR TOPICS IN MAILMAN

A search of the Mailman Canned Answer or References databases finds topics that match the "key words" used. You must search each database separately, i.e., if you initiate a search while in the Canned Answer database, it will not find matching words in the Reference database and vice versa.
I. How Do I Search for a Specific Canned Answer
1. Click on the Find Canned Answer or Insert Canned Answer button.
2. Enter keywords (e.g., mortgage interest, refund, wages, fraud) or the topic number (e.g., 510 or Topic 510) and click Search
3. The item(s) selected as a result of your search will appear at the top of your screen under Search Results.
II. Previewing and Copying Canned Answers
1. Preview allows you to see the content of a canned answer. Highlight the title and click "Preview" .
2. After previewing the answer, click Back to Canned Answer Selection .
3. Copy Answer copies the canned answer into your response. Once the answer is in the reply text box, you may edit it, if necessary.
4. Clear deselects any canned answer you have highlighted. You cannot have more than one title selected before clicking Copy Answer, or you may not get what you expect in the reply text window.
5. Return to Message takes you back to the message processing screen without copying a canned answer.
III. Using Mailman References
1. Open the message and Click Insert Reference. This opens the Reference database.
2. References are web site addresses (URLs) to sources of information on the IRS Internet Web Site (IRS.gov/) or other Internet sites.
3. Inserting References:
Scroll down the selections in the window and highlight your selection. You may also use Search to quickly locate a specific Reference by entering "key words" in the title of the Reference item.
Preview allows you to see the content of the reference item.
Copy Reference copies the item into your response.
Clear deselects a reference you have highlighted. You cannot have more than one item selected before clicking Copy Reference or you may not get the what you expect in the reply window.
Return to Message takes you back to the message processing screen without copying a reference.

Exhibit 21.3.2-3 
ELECTRONIC TAX ASSISTANCE HOW DO I SEARCH THE INTERNET?

The IRS Internet Website (www.irs.gov)

  • Click on "Search" in the upper right hand corner and enter your search text (key words) in the search box.

  • This search locates items on IRS website that match your search text.

  • It will not search other Internet sites.

General Internet Searches

  • Internet searches are NOT required to answer most tax law questions.

  • Searches of Mailman, SERP, Westlaw/LexisNexis and IRS.gov should be conducted before going to the Internet.

  • However, when it is necessary to refer the taxpayer to other Internet reference sources, you may need to research before referring the taxpayer to the site.

  • Usually, you can find sites for major government agencies such as Social Security or the Department of Labor by typing in the agency's acronym followed by ".gov" (e.g., www.ssa.gov).

  • The "Search" button for general Internet searches is at the top of your web browser screen. Clicking on this button opens a search window which takes you to a choice of search engines on the Internet - among them are companies such as Yahoo, Lycos, and Excite, which regularly index all of the addresses they can find on the Internet.

  • Some are better than others; however, they all return lists of URLs, Uniform Resources Locator (Web site addresses) that pertain to the topic you searched.

  • For example, if you searched for "mortgage points refinancing - tax law," you might get a list that includes the IRS Web site, the H&R Block home page, the Library of Congress site, and the Commerce Clearing House home page.

  • Important: See IRM 21.3.2.4.4(4) and Exhibit 21.3.2-4 for additional guidelines and restrictions for referring taxpayers to non-IRS web sites.

Exhibit 21.3.2-4 
ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE RESEARCH AND REFERENCES

ETLA assistors have access to a wide variety of on-line research and reference sources. In addition to the canned answers in Mailman, ETLA assistors use SERP, and IRWeb as primary on-line resources.

ETLA assistors using non-IDRS terminals also have access to other Intranet and Internet reference sources.

Security restrictions prevent users of IDRS terminals from doing general Internet searches and only allow access to approved IRS Intranet sites such as SERP and IRWeb.

  • The IRS Internet Web Site (www.IRS.gov) is the primary Internet reference source for assistors who have access to the Internet.

  • Other Internet sites may provide information to assist in answering taxpayer inquiries. You may refer taxpayers to a site for general information on a subject; however, DO NOT refer a taxpayer for specific information, unless you first verify that the information is there.

  • You MUST always advise the taxpayer that the IRS is not responsible for information on non-IRS sites.

  • You may use "copy and paste" to copy the site's URL address from your browser into the reply window in Mailman.

  • When you find an Internet site that you may need often, save it as a "Favorite" so you can return to it quickly without having to type in the URL address.

  • A description of some primary reference sources appears below.

 
SERP (serp. enterprise.irs.gov)
This site contains many valuable IRS references, including IRMs, the Customer Service Guide and Job Aid, Document 6209 (IRS Processing Codes & Information), Correspondex letters, Post of Duty (POD) lists, multi-year EIC (Earned Income Credit) and tax tables and multi-year tax forms and publications. This is an Intranet site; it is not available to the public site.
 
IRWeb (IRWeb.irs.gov)
IRWeb is the IRS Intranet homepage. It is the primary tool for communicating information that affects employees internally such as career and educational opportunities, changes to organizational structure and internal policies. It also provides current information on organizational initiatives, tax law changes and news media analysis of federal tax issues. This site is not available to the public.
 
IRS.gov (www.IRS.gov)
This is the IRS web site. It includes information on numerous tax related and general information topics to assist taxpayers, including Tax Topics, FAQs, forms and publications, regulations, IRBs (Internal Revenue Bulletins), special emphasis programs such as Electronic Filing and Market Segmentation, TE/GE, small business, etc. Taxpayers are encouraged to search for information on IRS.gov before submitting tax law questions to the ETLA program. The IRS.gov's "Site Tree" lists contents in an easy-to-read alphabetical format to guide users around the site. The "Site Map" is accessed through a link at the top of IRS.gov pages. This is a public site.
 
IRS Media and Publications (Publishing Services) http://publish.no.irs.gov/
The most current electronic versions of IRS printed products are available on this site. The latest forms, publications, Internal Revenue Bulletins (PDF versions since 1996-01), press releases and almost any other printed products are available at this site. This is an Intranet site; it is not available to the public.
 
Tax Notes Today
This site is available through LexisNexis (limited information for those who have access). The Intranet site has up-to-the-minute information on virtually all documents the IRS issues. Its contents can be viewed by citation, code section, descending or ascending dates, commentary, and many more methods of organization. This is not a public site.

Exhibit 21.3.2-5 
ELECTRONIC TAX LAW ASSISTANCE IT CONTACTS

Contact IT (Information Technology Services) at 866-743-5748, or at the web site:http://getservices.web.irs.gov for assistance with configuring your system.


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