Nine organizations representing tax and accounting professionals have appealed to lawmakers to improve the governance and oversight of the IRS, and create a unit within the agency that better services tax practitioners.
They presented their concerns April 3 in a nine-page letter and position statement, “Ensuring a Modern-Functioning IRS for the 21st Century,” to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the committee’s ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), and Ways and Means ranking member Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA).
“On behalf of tax practitioners, our organizations are committed to supporting Congress in its efforts to ensure a service-oriented, modernized tax administration system that earns the respect and appreciation of individuals, businesses, exempt organizations, as well as their advisers,” the nine groups wrote. “Since we advise millions of taxpayers on tax-related matters, assist them with compliance responsibilities, and represent them before the IRS, we are uniquely poised to being part of the solution.”
The organizations include:
- alliantgroup LP
- American Institute of CPAs
- 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
- Padgett Business Services
In their letter, the groups state that “the current degradation of the IRS taxpayer services is unacceptable.” They cite statistics indicating that the agency answered 53 percent of taxpayer calls in 2016, down from 87 percent in 2004. Yet, during that time period, calls increased from 71 million to 104 million.
In a quote attributed to National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in her 2014 annual report to Congress, “taxpayers are receiving the worst levels of taxpayer service since at least 2001, when the IRS implemented its current performance measures. In fact, the levels of service are the lowest I have witnessed in my 40 years of working in the field of taxation.”
The nine groups cite the 1997 report by the National Commission of Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service as the basis for their recommendations “on how to make the IRS an evolutionary and respected federal agency of the 21st century.”
Here’s a snapshot of what they want legislators to put in place:
- Modernization of the IRS’s business practices and technology should build on the 1997 report.
- Re-establish the annual joint hearing review.
- The Joint Committee on Taxation should provide a biannual report on the state of the federal tax system.
- The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) should review the IRS Oversight Board and determine if it’s an essential component to allow the IRS to become respected and service-oriented. The GAO could recommend provisos to ensure that the board has the authority to hold the IRS accountable for fulfilling its mission, oversee implementation of key recommendations from advisory groups, and ensure the IRS remains independent and nonpartisan.
- The IRS should be allowed and encouraged to hire qualified and experienced professionals from the private sector to improve its ability to meet its mission.
- Congress should determine what the IRS level of service and compliance should be and dedicate the appropriate resources for the agency to accomplish those goals.
- Customer satisfaction surveys should be used to measure IRS success.
- The IRS should provide face-to-face interactions with those taxpayers who can’t afford or don’t want to use online services.
The nine organizations also recommended that the IRS create a dedicated “executive level” practitioner services unit. Within that unit, tax professionals would have a secure account allowing them access to their clients’ information, which should include single sign-on authentication.
The IRS also should provide “robust practitioner priority hotlines” with higher-skilled employees who are able to address complex technical and procedural issues, the organizations said. If those hotline calls don’t resolve the issues, the IRS should assign customer service representatives to handle them.