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Tax Organizations Call on Congress to Improve IRS Services to Tax Practitioners

(Parker Tax Publishing April 2017)

Nine organizations representing various segments of the tax practitioner community, including the AICPA, called upon Congress to improve IRS services to tax practitioners. The group called for an improved governance and oversight structure for the IRS and proposed a new unit within the IRS that would centralize the agency's services to tax practitioners. AICPA Press Release (4/3/17).

In a press release issued April 3, the AICPA announced that it and eight other organizations representing tax practitioners had presented federal law makers with a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to improve services provided by the IRS to taxpayers and tax practitioners. The group called the current degradation of the IRS taxpayer services unacceptable. In the report, called "Ensuring a Modern-Functioning IRS for the 21st Century," the group cites figures from the National Taxpayer Advocate's 2016 Annual Report to Congress that reported the percentage of taxpayer calls answered by the IRS between 2004 and 2016 had dropped from 87 percent to 53 percent.

In addition to the AICPA, the other organizations that participated in writing the report are: alliantgroup, LP; Crowe Horwath, LLP; National Association of Enrolled Agents; National Association of Tax Professionals; National Conference of CPA Practitioners; National Society of Accountants; National Society of Tax Professionals; and PADGETT BUSINESS SERVICES

In the report, the group noted that, as tax practitioners, it advises millions of taxpayers on tax matters, assists them with compliance responsibilities, and represents them before the IRS. Thus, the group said, it understands what is working and not working with tax administration from both taxpayer and practitioner perspectives.

With respect to IRS taxpayer service, the report advises that to instill trust in the tax administration system, taxpayer service goals should be based on the following two guiding principles:

(1) The IRS should only initiate contact with a taxpayer if the IRS is prepared to devote the resources necessary for a proper and timely resolution of the matter.

(2) Customer satisfaction must be a goal in every interaction the IRS has with taxpayers, including enforcement actions. Taxpayers expect quality service in all interactions with the IRS, including taxpayer assistance, filing tax returns, paying taxes, and examination and collection actions.

Resources Necessary. The report states that appropriate hiring, adequate training, skillful management, and the necessary technological tools are essential for the IRS to meet its responsibilities. The leaders of the IRS must have the experience and skills to motivate their workforce and lead them to the realization of the desired vision. Organizational alignment from Congress, the President, the IRS Commissioner, and through the ranks of the IRS, is necessary to delivering the promised goals. The report recommends that the legislative and executive branches determine the appropriate level of service and compliance they want the IRS accountable to provide and then dedicate appropriate resources for the agency to meet those goals. Furthermore, to enable the IRS to achieve the improvements required for a 21st century tax administration system, a modern technological infrastructure is necessary. Currently, the IRS has two of the oldest information systems in the federal government making the information technology functions one of the biggest constraints overall for the IRS. Without modern infrastructure, the report states, the IRS is unable to timely and efficiently meet the needs of taxpayers and practitioners.

Customer satisfaction. The report notes that measurement tools are required to achieve customer satisfaction goals, including fairness in enforcement. The IRS made significant progress in measuring taxpayers' opinions in the years following the issuance of the 1997 Report of the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service. However, in recent years, the IRS has stopped reporting on customer satisfaction surveys and analysis. The report recommends that customer satisfaction surveys, gauging performance at all levels within the IRS, continue as an appropriate success measure. Congress, the report said, should utilize the survey results during the oversight and appropriations processes to ensure the agency is continually meeting the needs of taxpayers.

Finally, the report recommends that the IRS create a new dedicated "executive-level" practitioner services unit that would centralize and modernize its approach to all practitioners. Over time, the IRS has established a number of functional departments. The individuals in these departments are dispersed across the IRS and are not coordinated in a way that enables practitioners to timely access critical information (such as, their clients' account status or the availability of dispute resolution opportunities). Nor do the current teams or processes systematically solicit, gather or evaluate practitioner feedback. Enhancing the relationship between the IRS and practitioners, the report says, would benefit both the IRS and the millions of taxpayers served by the practitioner community.

Disclaimer: This publication does not, and is not intended to, provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and readers should consult their tax advisors concerning the application of tax laws to their particular situations. This analysis is not tax advice and is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for purposes of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on any taxpayer. The information contained herein is general in nature and based on authorities that are subject to change. Parker Tax Publishing guarantees neither the accuracy nor completeness of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for results obtained by others as a result of reliance upon such information. Parker Tax Publishing assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any changes in tax laws or other factors that could affect information contained herein.

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