IRS Confirms Plans to Retire Two e-Services Products in August

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By Jim Buttonow, CPA, CITP
 
The IRS confirmed June 7 that it plans to retire two major e-services incentive products used by CPAs, attorneys, and enrolled agents to file authorizations and resolve IRS account problems. 
 
The IRS announced it will retire the Disclosure Authorization and Electronic Account Resolution e-services products August 11, "due largely to low usage." The IRS stated it increased the number of employees and improved its internal processes in response to this change. 
 
The two major e-services products slated for retirement serve several common functions for tax professionals:
  • Disclosure Authorization (DA) allows for real-time input of Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, and Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization, eliminating the waiting period resulting from IRS processing delays that occur when mailing or faxing disclosure authorizations to the IRS. According to the IRS announcement, the current average processing time for mailed or faxed authorizations is ten days.
  • Electronic Account Resolution (EAR) gives tax professionals electronic access the IRS Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) to resolve client account problems. There are seven EAR inquiries available, allowing tax professionals to address such client issues as notice research, installment agreement requests, and refund issues. This allows for convenient communication with the IRS about client issues and eliminates time spent waiting to speak with a PPS representative by phone.
IRS Move Draws Sharp Criticism from Practitioners
After learning of the IRS announcement to retire the two e-services products, many practitioners were upset and disappointed to learn they will lose the convenience of interacting with the IRS electronically.
 
"It is just insane that they made such progress in customer service with the e-services program, and now they are shoving everything into reverse," said CPA George Prytula, III. "This is tantamount to all major banks telling us that they are shutting down all of their ATM machines and going back to just lobby counter service."
 
Some practitioners also pointed to a lack of IRS outreach when it comes to educating practitioners and publicizing the various uses of e-services incentive products.
 
"I think they just haven't promoted it enough generally to practitioners," said Pamela Britz, EA. "I use these two [DA and EAR] – especially filing POAs – quite often."
 
A Look at the Alternatives
The IRS has not been explicit about electronic alternatives it will offer to support functions previously available in DA and EAR, though it promised in its announcement June 7 it would look for electronic solutions going forward.
 
As an alternative to DA, the IRS instructed tax professionals to fax or mail authorizations to the appropriate IRS location and allow at least four days for processing. 
 
Tax professionals can use the Online Payment Arrangement tool in lieu of the installment agreement request in the EAR product, although a number of practitioners have expressed difficulty using this tool. There are currently no other online options to replace the other six EAR functions. As a general alternative, the IRS directed practitioners to call the PPS line at 1-866-860-4259 for help resolving account-related issues.
 
However, many practitioners expressed dissatisfaction with that alternative, citing long wait times. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in 2012, the average PPS hold time was more than twenty-two minutes per call – up from just under five minutes per call in 2009.
 
CPA John Stanbery is one practitioner who prefers using e-services to calling the IRS. "It certainly beats being on hold for forty-five minutes," Stanbery said. 
 
Budget Setbacks
Reduced IRS budgets and staffing may also affect PPS customer service, as representatives are forced to accommodate the extra workload resulting from e-services cutbacks. 
 
In 2012, the IRS experienced its second straight year of budget cuts, brought on by the sequester, totaling almost $1 billion over the past two years. From 2010 to 2012, the IRS also reduced its staff by 7,000 employees. 
 
With budget and staff reductions at the IRS, many practitioners think it is a surprising decision for the IRS to move from an electronic customer service system back to one-on-one, phone-based support. 
 
A Step Backward?
Although the IRS announced it is responding to e-services cutbacks with more employees to process authorizations, the IRS decision to retire two online tools appears out of step with government reports and advisory board recommendations on enhancing technology for tax administration. A variety of reports point to the IRS' need for new and better technology – at a time when taxpayers and practitioners are increasingly adopting electronic tools. 
 
According to an electronic road map set forth by the Office of Online Services and reported by the GAO earlier this year, the IRS continues to plan for enhanced online tools for taxpayers. However, providing electronic tools to tax professionals, who prepare 60 percent of all tax returns, is a cost-effective strategy described by the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council in its 2012 Public Report:
 
"The IRS would like to increase practitioner reliance on e-service tools and decrease reliance on one-on-one contact through the IRS Practitioner Priority Service. Transferring practitioners to e-services when appropriate can increase assistor availability for issues that require an assistor's support." 
 
The IRS decision to retire two e-services products also appears counterintuitive in light of several technology initiatives being developed by the IRS, such as various information matching and identity verification programs. On April 9, in his testimony before Congress, former IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller made clear the agency's IT priorities.
 
"If you were to ask me, 'If you had one last dollar . . . and that dollar was for bodies or for IT,' I would take it for IT, because that is the lifeblood of our efficiency," Miller said.
 
Practitioners Are Using e-Services
In its announcement about retiring DA and EAR e-services products, the IRS cited low usage of the products as a reason for the scale back. However, according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) study from June 2012, there has been a demonstrated and steady increase in practitioner usage of e-services DA since its inception. 
 
In October and November 2011, there were more than 153,000 authorizations filed via DA, according to TIGTA.
 
DA is popular among practitioners because it offers an efficient alternative to filing authorizations with the IRS Centralized Authorization File (CAF) unit, which experiences long average processing times. Currently, processing of disclosure authorizations by faxing the CAF is taking ten business days, according to the IRS. Access via DA is instantaneous. 
 
Without electronic filing of authorizations, delays like Prytula's will be inevitable for practitioners. 
 
"I mailed a power of attorney to the IRS two weeks ago and then faxed another one two days ago, and both of them are still not yet in the IRS CAF system," Prytula said. 
 
Many practitioners are upset about the IRS' decision to retire these products. Their responses have spurred a grassroots movement to petition the IRS to abandon its plans to retire the e-services products or replace the products with other electronic solutions.
 
 
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About the author: 
Jim Buttonow, CPA/CITP, is cofounder of New River Innovation, creator of Beyond415. He has more than twenty-five years of experience in IRS practice and procedure. Reach Jim at JButtonow@Beyond415.com.
 

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I guarantee that this is not a "cost cutting" measure. Calling the practioner hotline and waiting at times an hour or more for a person only to tell you that there is something about your POA they don't like, they don't want to give you what you ask for that your POA clearly covers, or they do not address what you are calling for and then ask you questions about things you are not even calling about and is not the purpose of your call, puts more power back at the IRS whose mission is not to foster voluntary compliance. The IRS increasingly shows its incompetence. Most of the phone calls that are handled by the practioner hotline are people working from home with little over sight (I know because I use to manage agents who did this when I worked for IRS and it was horrible). Hence the erratic time waits. IRS needs a major overhaul that represents its mission statement. No wonder the under ground economy grows.

I just signed the petition. I urge all practitioners to do the same!

A SHAME TWO PROGRAMS THAT ARE WORKING ARE BEING DISCONTINUED.THE PHONE SYSTEM IS SIMPLY NOT A SOLUTION. AT MY BILLING RATES, BILLING FOR HOLDING TIME IN EXCESS OF 15 MINUTES I EAT.

ACCESS TO THE IRS OTHER THAN 1040 LINES IS NOT THERE AND THAT IS TIME CONSUMING AT BEST.

BRITT

The DA system was cumbersome if two or more were named as POA's. (Each had to log-in separately to "sign" the form.) Many more would have used the DA system if it had a more flexible means of completing those multi-member POA forms, which are common in CPA firms.

In a process where the POA was effectively "promising" to have a form signed by the taxpayer, why couldn't the IRS trust that the POA entering the information also had the signatures of all other POAs on a completed form 2848?

10 days for a faed POA to get on file, that would be a dream. We have found it always takes 6 WEEKS!

Get out your hammer, chisel, and stone tablets. So the answer to an automated system that worked is to replace it with more personnel. Wait 4 days to get a transcript that we can go online and pull the details faster than it takes to wait for an agent to answer the Practicianer's Hotline?

Go to the link for the online petition and make your voice heard.

With the DA section of the e-services, you got an immediate response and ability to obtain transcripts on client accounts. In the past I only had to fax in a DA when the client had not filed a return in the last couple of years and had no AGI in the IRS computer. It made it very easy to find out if income was reported on an individual tax account and if all of the tax deposits were posted, the date and period! Form 941 research was easy to accomplish with this service.

I agree with either revamping or shutting down the electronic account resolution, in that the time or two I tried it, I got no response! Maybe that is why nobody used it.

The IRS should look at ways to make processes work better and faster, not more difficult and slower.