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Created

February 23, 2010

The choice between efficiency or effective citizen interactions?

In the State of the Union address a few weeks ago, President Obama issued a challenge to the US government. With families and small businesses across the nation tightening their belts and making tough decisions, the federal government should do the same. It’s certainly a challenging time for government to look for efficiencies. Along with the citizens and businesses they service, government jurisdictions at all levels are strained in this economic climate. Federal as well as state and local governments are looking for ways to tighten their belts and still deliver critical services for citizens and small businesses.

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While all government organizations are challenged to tighten their belts, tax and revenue agencies face a special challenge. How can you be more efficient, make it easier for taxpayers to interact with you, but still be as effective as possible collecting tax revenue? In the case of tax agencies, one area that can be a win-win for taxpayers and tax agencies is electronic filing. The City and County of San Francisco’s Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector is a recent example of a tax agency that added online options that make the agency more efficient while also improving tax filing interactions with citizens and businesses.

This tax year the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office added an electronic process to streamline how small businesses file their registration renewals and payroll expense tax statements. Using the new process, businesses can download and fill in a smart PDF form. The form offers a familiar paper-like interface but is more user-friendly. The form has embedded help, performs calculations, and prevents many types of common errors. In addition, the form can pre-populate taxpayer information, which minimizes data entry for business users. The online process offers taxpayers an intuitive, secure, and faster alternative to the old paper process.

The new electronic system also helps the Treasurer’s Office be more efficient. By modernizing old paper-based processes, the tax filings and business registrations can now be processed more quickly and at a lower cost. The new system opens the door to productivity and accuracy improvements with tax and registrations now handled in streamlined electronic workflows. IRS studies have shown electronic filings can be over 80% cheaper to process than their paper counterparts. By adding electronic tax filing alternatives, the Treasurer’s Office is taking steps to operate more efficiently.

While Obama’s call to action for government belt-tightening was directed at the federal government, it is a challenge facing agencies at all levels of government. The City and County of San Francisco’s Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector is an example of an agency thinking creatively to operate more efficiently. But it is also an example that shows that increasing efficiency and improving citizen interactions are not mutually exclusive.

For more info about San Francisco’s new electronic process take a look at the Treasurer’s Office press release and the San Francisco Chronicle (scroll down to “Friendly Filing”).