Taxpayer Advocate Cites a Few Problems

March 11, 2010

It’s always amusing to review the annual report to Congress of the National Taxpayer Advocate–recall that a provision of the Internal Revenue Code itself requires the Advocate to describe at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers each year.
            Number one on the list is right on target (in our recent experience) in noting that “IRS toll-free telephone service is declining (to say the least – ed.) as taxpayer demand for telephone service is increasing.
            During the 2007 filing season, as we get it, the IRS attained a “Customer Service Representative Level of Service” (a euphemism if there ever was one – ed.) of 83 percent on its toll free lines. This stat measures the proportion of taxpayer (or their representative) callers seeking to speak with an IRS employee who actually get through to one! So if you thought 2007 was bad, the 2008 rate declined to 77 percent, and the 2009 tabulation was a ridiculous 64 percent (with a 519 second average speed of answer, no less)!
            Quoth the Advocate, “These declining numbers indicate that, at least with respect to its toll-free telephone lines, the IRS is not achieving its goal of improving service to facilitate voluntary compliance.”
            Really.
            And if you think the telephone service is bad, the Advocate’s second biggest problem is what she calls the Revenooers’ “one-size-fits-all lien filing policies” which “circumvent the spirit of the law, fail to promote future tax compliance, and unnecessarily harm taxpayers.”       
            Seems the Advocate has identified a number of concerns with the IRS’ lien filing procedures, including lack of managerial review prior to most lien filings, lack of verification of assets prior to filing a lien notice, unnecessary harm to taxpayers whose accounts are reported currently not collectible, and failure by IRS to fully utilize its statutory authority to withdraw notices of federal tax lien.
            Not a pretty picture–especially if you are the recipient of one of these nastygrams from IRS.
            Another of the Advocate’s “top 5” concerns hammers the IRS Appeal process. Notes the Advocate, “Appeals’ efficiency initiatives have not improved taxpayer satisfaction or confidence in Appeals.” Among unrepresented taxpayers, we hear, the “customer satisfaction rate” (What? You don’t view yourself as a ‘customer?’ – ed.) was a mere 53 percent in 2008. Further, Appeals has not conducted a taxpayer based assessment to consider the taxpayers’ conference needs or preferences.
            We can hardly wait for next year’s report.
            And from our “let the taxpayer beware” department comes this little nugget from a recent survey conducted by the American Revolution Center regarding, “The American Revolution – Who Cares?”
            Get this: more Americans polled knew that pop singer Michael Jackson sang “Beat It” than that the Bill of Rights is part of the U.S. Constitution.
            Who knows – maybe we’re just getting the “service” from the IRS which we deserve.
CONSULT YOUR TAX ADVISOR – This article contains general information about various tax matters. You should consult your CPA regarding the implications to your own particular situation.
            Jeff Quinn, the author of this article, is a shareholder in Ashley Quinn, CPAs and Consultants, Ltd. with offices in Incline Village and Reno. He is also a contributor to the recently published 13th edition of Tax Savvy for Small Business, published by Nolo. He can be reached at 831-7288, and welcomes comments at jquinn@ashleyquinncpas.com.

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