IRS Employees Need More Training in Dealing with Troubled Taxpayers

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By Frank Byrt

Many IRS workers don't have sufficient training in dealing with potentially dangerous taxpayers, despite several programs developed to address such situations, according to a report issued March 12 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). TIGTA oversees the IRS and investigates threats made against its employees.

The IRS, which has about 100,000 employees at 700 facilities nationwide, developed the Potentially Dangerous Taxpayer (PDT) Program in 1984 to teach employees on how to deal with and report on potentially dangerous interactions with taxpayers.

That was followed in 1999 by the IRS' creation of the Office of Employee Protection (OEP) to administer the PDT Program, which manages a database that contains a list of the names, addresses, and case histories of people who have threatened, assaulted, harassed, or otherwise interfered with the duties of IRS employees.

OEP most recently developed another safety program, the Caution Upon Contact (CAU) Program, which it also administers. 

The CAU classification criteria for potentially dangerous taxpayers, includes: 

  • Threat of physical harm that is less severe or immediate than necessary to satisfy PDT criteria.
  • Suicide threat by the taxpayer.
  • Filing or threatening to file a frivolous lien or a frivolous criminal or civil action against an IRS employee or contractor or their immediate family.

As of July 2012, the IRS had 2,162 active PDT cases, 4,487 active CAU cases, and 662 PDT cases with pending investigations.

TIGTA's review of the administration of the PDT and CAU Programs, summarized in a report dated January 18, 2013, found that although these programs are adequately controlled, some IRS employees who have direct contact with taxpayers  have not received sufficient training in them.

For example, TIGTA interviewed 34 IRS employees who have had direct contact with taxpayers and found that 88 percent of them were familiar with the PDT designation, but only 29 percent had heard of the CAU designation. "In addition, only 18 percent of these employees have heard of the OEP and its mission, and only 15 percent responded that they had received specific training on the OEP and the PDT and CAU Programs."

TIGTA also said it found "several threatening incidents by taxpayers that were not reported to the OEP or TIGTA, and other circumstances where training courses and internal guidance for these employees were incomplete or inaccurate." 

"The IRS depends upon its employees to recognize dangerous taxpayers and properly report threatening incidents", said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a press release accompanying the TIGTA report. "Failure to report threats or verbal abuse can put other IRS employees at risk." 

The importance of such safety programs was brought to the fore in 2010, when an Austin, Texas, man with a history of disputes with the IRS crashed his private plane into an Austin office building that housed IRS employees, killing himself and an IRS worker and injuring many others.

"The February 2010 attack on an IRS facility in Austin, Texas, demonstrates the dangers that IRS employees face in performing their jobs", TIGTA said in the report. 

IRS management agreed with TIGTA's recommendations that it train employees annually on the safety programs, keep data for its PDT and CAU lists current, and improve OEP's organizational structure.  

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