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Monday July 22, 2019

Washington News

Washington Hotline

Taxpayer Advocate Desires IRS Improvements

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson will be retiring on July 31, 2019. In her final report to Congress, Olson expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to serve taxpayers.

"I am enormously grateful for the opportunity I've had to advocate on behalf of our nation's taxpayers," Olson noted. "Amazingly, despite the challenges of complying with our multi-million-word tax code, more than 150 million individual taxpayers and more than 10 million business entities do their civic duty every year by filing income tax returns with the IRS. That is an extraordinary achievement and one we should not take for granted."

Olson has also been at the forefront of efforts to improve IRS services. She used this final report to explain some specific concerns about the IRS.

Olson noted, "But even as the system works for most taxpayers most of the time, it doesn't work for millions of others. Taxpayer service is woefully inadequate. IRS audit notices are often unclear, leading some taxpayers to agree to assessments by default – even when they do not owe the tax. And the IRS doesn't screen for ability to pay before it takes collection actions, thereby causing or worsening financial hardships for financially vulnerable taxpayers."

The three primary areas for improvement that Olson highlighted include IRS taxpayer services, self-service applications and financially vulnerable taxpayers.
  1. Taxpayer Services – The President's Management Agenda set a goal for taxpayers to have "a customer experience that compares to – or exceeds – that of leading private sector organizations." In a recent survey of 15 federal agencies, the IRS ranked 13th in customer service. Olson stated, "The Taxpayer First Act directs the IRS to develop a comprehensive customer service strategy within one year. The IRS should use that requirement as an opportunity to think creatively about better ways to truly put taxpayers first."

  2. Self-Service Applications – The IRS has steadily attempted to increase the quality and usage of automated calls, website services and smartphone apps. Olson urges the IRS to use a "Taxpayer Anxiety Index" to determine when to make personal contact in order to assist taxpayers.

  3. Financially Vulnerable Taxpayers – The IRS's power to seize assets can be devastating for lower income taxpayers. There were 2.1 million taxpayers in 2018 with installment payment plans for their overdue taxes. About 40% of these individuals were low-income taxpayers. Olson suggests that the IRS improve data analysis systems to identify potential economic hardship cases. The IRS can then make reasonable accommodations for these taxpayers.
Editor's Note: Nina Olson has been an excellent advocate for all taxpayers. The recent Taxpayer First Act signed by the President is designed to facilitate better taxpayer services by the IRS. Many of the IRS improvements in the bill resulted from the advocacy efforts of Nina Olson.

Published June 21, 2019
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