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Tax Administrators

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Wisconsin and Washington Win Award for Taxpayer Service and Education

(Washington , D. C., April 2, 2012) The Federation of Tax Administrators announced today that Wisconsin and Washington Departments of Revenue are the recipients of the 2012 FTA Award for Taxpayer Service and Education. Presentation of the awards will take place during the FTA Annual Meeting, June 20 in Washington, DC.

Wisconsin's Online Portal Account overhaul was most heavily praised by judges for one feature: the agency took an existing program that worked and turned it into a program that worked very well. Wisconsin taxpayers had been using My Tax Account since February 2009. The agency overhaul began in June 2011, with a singular focus on improving the experience for customers. The Department of Revenue added a comprehensive outreach and educational effort over the nine months eating to the redesign, which had been named "My Tax Account -- Your Way." The Department of Revenue learned from research that the statewide registration process had fatal flaws, the online forms were not intuitive and there was little help functionality. What self-help materials existed were too difficult to follow. Users ended up calling or emailing for help. The agency surveyed 20,000 users and used the answers from the 22 percent of responders in designing its upgrade. Designers changed forms to more closely match the paper forms that customers were familiar with and reduced the number of screens needed to navigate; a "build-a-form" approach makes visible only the sections customers were working on (no more scrolling!). Buttons and navigational tool placement was standardized across all teams. Verification became a one-time process and registration was simplified. Agency employees took over User ID and password maintenance so they could better help their customers.

Judges were drawn to the effective use of YouTube videos to teach and drive taxpayers to use the site and complimented the agency for recognizing that "they had a less effective system -- they ere honest and not defensive; they recognized problems and used customer input to fix them."

Washington State's amnesty program was called “a good model for future amnesties -- they did it the right way." Washington has no individual income tax. Its Business & Occupation (gross receipts) tax and sales taxes affect a broad range of small business owners. The agency had only seven weeks to plan the amnesty after it was created by a one-day special legislative session. The Department of Revenue had a PayMyTax.org website launched only four days after passage of the bill. Still, small business owners began clamoring for information that would not be available for some weeks. The agency's response was to provide a quote for interested taxpayers -- the amount they would owe and the amount they would save under amnesty. Taxpayers wrote or emailed the agency with a business number and the periods for which they wanted amnesty. Of the nearly 5,000 quotes that were written, 95 percent of those taxpayers applied for amnesty.

Judges praised the communication strategy, use of the Internet and the results. They called the agency's decision to capture debtors' attention by showing them how much delinquency could be forgiven under the amnesty "an innovation." Other key communication decisions included conducting an informal usability study on its amnesty application and deciding that the form had to be simplified. The audit division sent unsolicited amnesty quotes to taxpayers who received an audit debit assessment, and the compliance division shared amnesty information with debtors who were on payment plans. Washington has scrutinized its actions and results and compiled a list of lessons learned, including "run a shorter program" and "allow taxpayers to follow the progress of their application online."

The Federation of Tax Administrators is a nonprofit organization composed of taxation and revenue departments of the fifty states, District of Columbia and New York City. Its mission is to improve the standards and methods of tax administration.