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IRS Service Levels: Don’t Give Me Excuses!

CartoonHonest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Abysmal service levels; I hear you, I really do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in practice but those busy season scars are still with me. I half joke but the memories don’t go away completely.

So, another busy season and the prospects for easily – wait, reasonably – representing your clients with the IRS appear to be no better than they were last year, when I blogged several times about service issues. In May, for example, you may have read about the AICPA governing Council resolution directing the Institute to intercede on a long-term solution to the service crisis. We started those conversations but, frankly, the environment in Washington got worse. Hard to believe, but it did. In October, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) joined 18 members of the committee in introducing an impeachment resolution against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The resolution is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

That “honest disagreement” between Congress and the IRS regarding appropriate funding levels and effective management of the appropriated funds has been a huge barrier. You probably don’t care; you just want to properly represent your clients. You’re probably more interested in signs of progress. Right now, I can offer two:

Sign 1: In its Annual Report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate outlined a summary of at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers each year. For 2015, the NTA identified 24 such problems. Guess what tops the list? Yup – taxpayer service. Shining the light on the problem, as the AICPA and National Taxpayer Advocate continue to do, is important to progressing to a solution.

Sign 2: In December, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113), which increases the IRS budget by 3% over fiscal year 2015. The $290 million increase is targeted specifically for taxpayer services and is focused on improving fraud detection and prevention, cybersecurity and the response rate to taxpayer inquiries. These are obviously critically important areas for taxpayers and practitioners; the additional funding is an important step after several years of cuts.

Washington is set to be hit with an historic blizzard as I pen these words, yet I can’t help feeling that we may be facing the beginnings of a thaw in the outlook toward the IRS service situation. To leverage the changing environment, the AICPA has organized a “fly-in” in February to provide lawmakers and IRS officials with voices from the trenches to underscore the impact of this currently unacceptable level of service. (The term fly-in refers to CPAs who are flying into Washington, D.C. to talk with members of Congress and the IRS Commissioner.) We also see this fly-in as a way to accelerate the move toward providing the country with an IRS capable of world-class service and citizen satisfaction. The AICPA is immensely grateful to these CPAs for taking the time to help all of us during an obviously inconvenient time for them. But it is the time circumstances dictate and it is an important next step. This problem didn’t evolve overnight. Solving it will take time but we are committed to seizing every opportunity we can on your behalf and on behalf of taxpayers. (Our advocacy work doesn’t end here – check out our latest Washington Tax Brief for an update on all the ways we represent you.)

We also have a busy season webpage available with helpful resources that might take the edge off. When next season starts, my personal goal is to multiply the signs of progress that translate into tangible results to make your work easier. I think we all look forward to the day I no longer need to write about it. 

And as Mahatma Gandhi said “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” We are resolute in our determination.

Edward Karl, Vice President-Taxation, American Institute of CPAs. 

Cartoon courtesy of Adam Junkroski, Lead Manager-Tax Communications, American Institute of CPAs. 

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