On Tuesday, May 17, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson convened the seventh in a series of public forums on taxpayer service.
Over 100 people attended, representing a range of interests and organizations, including tax professional groups like the AICPA, and the National Society of Accountants; several law firms; a blend of nonprofit and government researchers; and tax publications including Tax Analysts. The forum also brought back former IRS Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs, who discussed the evolving state of the IRS since his time leading the agency.
Building on initiatives already implemented, the IRS for the past two years has been developing a “Future State” plan that envisions how it will operate in the next five years and beyond. It is continuing to develop a path for how it gets from its “Current State” to the “Future State,” including refinements to the vision along the way. A central component of the plan is the creation of online taxpayer accounts as a convenient but non-exclusive channel through which taxpayers will be able to obtain information from and interact with the IRS.
In the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2015 Annual Report to Congress, Ms. Olson expressed concerns about whether the IRS’s “Future State” plan adequately addresses taxpayer needs. To further public awareness and dialogue, she announced plans to hold a series of public forums around the country. The objective of the public forums is to ensure the “Future State” plan will better reflect the needs and preferences of U.S. taxpayers as they seek to comply with the tax code.
The speakers who joined the National Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS building in Washington, DC submitted written statements and participated in panel discussions about the usefulness of online accounts and their limitations, their likely impact on taxpayer demand for telephone and face-to-face service, and IRS priorities generally. The first panel featured a discussion with former Commissioner of Internal Revenue Lawrence Gibbs, who discussed the potential for fraud associated with the IRS’s administration of social programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Despite the efforts within the IRS to detect and deter refund fraud, substantial problems remain with the payment of fraudulent refund claims to fraudsters.
Continuing with the theme of the forum’s focus on what taxpayers want and need from the IRS to comply with the tax laws, John Ams from the National Society of Accountants highlighted the importance of facilitating voluntary compliance by empowering taxpayers with secure tools and support to help them meet their tax obligations. The need to strengthen cyber defense, prevent identity theft and refund fraud, and help drive agility in IRS operations were all elements John Ams dictated were incumbent upon the IRS to adopt for its Future State initiative.
Highlighting the National Taxpayer Advocate’s concern for what the IRS’s Future State will mean for average taxpayers, the third panel discussed taxpayer preferences for online delivery of government services. The panel featured a discussion around a survey published by Forrester Research that showed respondents being more satisfied with in-person interactions when dealing with a federal agency as compared with the interaction taking place through a website or mobile application. The findings echo the concern for what a broad transition to online services will mean for taxpayers hoping to get assistance in person when filing their taxes.
The theme across the panels was that the need for face-to-face, voice-to-voice communications and interactions with taxpayers will continue to be necessary, regardless of the quality of digital tools being developed by the IRS.
Several of the panelists submitted written statements:
- Lawrence B. Gibbs (Member, Miller & Chevalier | Washington, DC Former Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service)
- Caroline Bruckner (Executive in Waiting | Accounting & Taxation Managing Director Kogod Tax Policy Center | American University | Washington, DC)
- Marylouise Serrato (Executive Director | American Citizens Abroad | Rockville, MD)
- Johnette Hartnett (Ed.D, Senior Director | Strategy & Research National Disability Institute | Washington, DC)
- Eric L. Green (Attorney at Law Green & Sklarz, LLC | New Haven, CT Representative, Section of Taxation | American Bar Association)
- Troy K. Lewis (CPA Lewis & Associates, CPAs, LLC | Draper, UT Chair, Tax Executive Committee | American Institute of Certified Public Accountants)
- Robert Kerr (Senior Director | Government Relations National Association of Enrolled Agents | Washington, DC)
- John Ams (Executive Vice President | National Society of Accountants | Alexandria, VA)
- Rick Parrish (Senior Analyst | Forrester Research, Inc. | Cambridge, MA)
- Tina Orem (Staff Writer | NerdWallet | San Francisco, CA)
- John Sapp (CPA Vice President of Strategic Development | Drake Software | Franklin, NC Chair, Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement)
More about the forum: