Friday, July 17, 2015

National Taxpayer Advocate's June 30, 2015 Report To Congress



Twice a year the National Taxpayer Advocate submits a report to Congress. The Advocate is required to submit these without prior review by the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of the Treasury or the Office of Management and Budget. A report was issued June 30, and it identified the objectives of the Advocate’s office for the upcoming fiscal year.

The National Taxpayer Advocate is Nina E. Olson. We have spoken of her before, and I am a fan.  


The following caught my eye:

The most serious problem facing U.S. taxpayers is the declining quality of service provided to them by the IRS when they seek to comply with their tax filing and payment obligations."

Given that this is a co-equal reason for the IRS to exist (the other being to collect revenue), this is a rather serious charge.

Consider the following:

·         The IRS hung up on approximately 8.8 million taxpayers during this year’s filing season. The IRS dryly refers to these as “courtesy disconnects,” ostensibly as proof that they too have read Orwell’s 1984.
o   This number was up from 544,000 hang-ups during the 2014 filing season.
·         Only 37% of people using toll-free lines were able to speak with a human being.
o   Down from 71% last year.
·          The IRS has announced that it will no longer answer any tax law questions at all.
·         The IRS will eliminate tax preparation altogether.
o   It used to maintain approximately 400 walk-in sites and helped taxpayers prepare around 500,000 tax returns annually.
·         The IRS answered only 17% of the calls from people whose account was blocked on suspicion of identity theft.
·         Don’t expect that hiring a tax professional will resolve the logjam. Professionals were able get through less than 50% of the time.

From the perspective of a practicing tax CPA, I found interacting with the IRS this filing season to be unpleasant, if not futile. I find myself with divided opinions: many of the examiners and officers I have met and worked with over the years are responsible and likeable enough. Gather them together however and you have an organization that has lost the trust and confidence of a sizeable number of taxpaying citizens.

Ms. Olson does point out that the IRS has been charged with additional tasks in recent years, such as pursuing foreign assets (FATCA) and "assisting" the American public with their health insurance (ObamaCare). There has simultaneously been a reduction in agency funding.The GAO has reported that IRS funding declined approximately $900 million since fiscal year 2010, for example, resulting in the elimination of approximately 10,000 full-time equivalent positions.

Let’s be frank: under this Congress there will not be – nor should there be – additional funding for an agency that has been weaponized for political purposes. Paul Caron, a Pepperdine tax law professor, maintains a count and compendium of IRS misbehavior at TaxProfBlog  (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/irs-scandal). He is perilously close to 800 days and will likely exceed that count by the time you read this. If smoke indicates fire, then someone must have burned down the warehouse district to generate that much smoke.

Is there a solution? Yes, but it will probably have to wait until November, 2016. But you already knew that.


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