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Practitioners unit can help IRS put taxpayers first

Shutterstock_1055588426“Wouldn’t you know IRS extended filing season an extra day the year I retire.”

  • Nameless but real CPA

On April 17, what was supposed to be the final day for Americans to file 2017 tax returns, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hardware issues resulted in the outage of several key online systems. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The website crash forced the IRS to delay the tax deadline by one day. It also served as a warning sign for those of us advocating for the agency’s modernization. And don’t tell that CPA that he actually got an extra three in his last busy season. Gravy, as it were.

The day after the technology collapse, the Taxpayer First Act — described as the most transformative revisions to the IRS in 20 years — won unanimous passage in the U.S. House of Representatives. The package of nine bills is intended to redesign the IRS to emphasize customer service, new taxpayer appeal rights, improved responsiveness to victims of identity theft and modernization of technology.

In steering the effort, House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) said “[a]s a CPA, I’ve seen first-hand countless examples of the IRS being out of date with technology and out of touch with the needs of the taxpayer.”

The legislation was rightly focused on taxpayers. But as the Senate considers its own approach to modernizing the IRS, I want to put in a good word for CPA tax practitioners.

You may recall, the AICPA led an effort among several professional organizations and former IRS executives that provided IRS modernization recommendations to Congress last year. In light of the passage of tax reform legislation, the recommendations are particularly critical.

One of the key elements of our proposed framework was the designation of an executive-level “practitioner services” unit.

Recommended features of a dedicated “practitioner services” unit

·         Centralize and modernize IRS’s approach to tax practitioners

·         Provide tax practitioners with an online tax professional account with immediate access to all of their clients’ information

·         Offer a centralized login system on a secure platform to allow for a single sign-on authentication of the practitioner (as opposed to authentication before accessing each client’s account)

·         Provide a digital mechanism for power of attorney and disclosure authorization

·         Replace the Centralized Authorization File with a consolidated online solution using electronic signatures and an algorithmic-driven approval process that is as close to real time as possible

·         Communicate directly to tax practitioners and allow practitioner correspondence with timely acknowledgement of receipt

·         Offer robust practitioner priority hotlines with higher-skilled employees

·         Assign customer service representatives to address issues that practitioners are unable to resolve through the priority hotlines

Over time, the IRS has established a number of functional departments. Unfortunately, these units are not coordinated in a way that enables practitioners to access quickly critical information, such as their clients’ account status. Nor do the current teams or processes systematically solicit, gather or evaluate practitioner feedback from a quality review perspective. More importantly, practitioners represent millions of taxpayers every year. A practitioner services unit would benefit both the taxpayers served by the practitioner community and allow the IRS to leverage their limited resources in serving unrepresented taxpayers.  

Such a unit would allow the IRS to rationalize, enhance and place under common management the many current, disparate practitioner-impacting programs, processes and tools. This coordination and improved access of information would avoid practitioners having to submit the same information multiple times to multiple IRS employees, for example.

Finally, to ensure the success of the practitioner services unit, it is essential that these services approximate comparable private sector services and allow practitioners to resolve account issues for their clients quickly and efficiently. It’s a win-win for taxpayers.

In a recent interview, former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen remarked that "[o]nce people start to focus on what does it take to run this place appropriately, you're having the right discussion." And as one of the IRS’s most significant stakeholders, we are committed to being part of the discussion — and the solution, as well.

Edward S. Karl, CPA, CGMA, Vice President - Taxation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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