The National Association of Enrolled Agents reports that it’s “troubled” by recent IRS proposals to institute temporary and voluntary annual filing season certification for preparers next season.

The NAEA joins the American Institute of CPAs in opposing the proposal by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen to offer a form of voluntary tax preparer certification. Koskinen floated the idea of a series of court rulings invalidated the IRS’s efforts to require mandatory testing and continuing education of preparers.

The proposed program aims to help preparers “differentiate themselves in the marketplace” and would require professional preparers to have a valid PTIN, 15 hours of continuing education annually and consent to Circular 230, Subpart B.

“NAEA has supported efforts – legislative, administrative or both – to provide oversight to the widely unregulated tax preparer community,” NAEA president Lonnie Gary wrote in a letter to Koskinen. “Nonetheless, we are troubled by the proposal, which we believe raises significant policy questions as well as significant administrative issues, and believe the agency should retract it.”

Specifically, the NAEA pointed out that while the proposal – put forth with suspicious speed, the association said – does retain an education requirement, it replaces a basic competency test “with a 50-question ‘knowledge-based comprehension test’ to be created by individual CE providers,” apparently “an inconsistent, virtually uncontrolled and invalid instrument, indistinguishable from what is commonly thought of as a quiz.”

“We are concerned taxpayers will mistakenly assume that participation in this voluntary program guarantees a high level of competence,” the NAEA wrote. “In exchange for taking some CE (and, possibly, a 50-question ‘quiz’ created by one of potentially hundreds of continuing education providers), the (IRS) blesses the participant with the accoutrements of legitimacy.”

Among the issues that the NAEA said need clarification are:

  • Fees to participants;
  • How the IRS would discipline the program participants; and,
  • How CE providers can cover all complex tax issues in three hours of class time.

“Legacy Circular 230 practitioners are subject to discipline up to and including revocation of their licenses to practice. We have too much invested in our licenses to practice to risk them by engaging in questionable behavior,” the letter reads. “Participants in the proposed program, on the other hand, have nothing to lose.”
The NAEA proposed instead a voluntary RTRP program and a competency test in the 2016 season, among other measures.

“If [the] IRS adopts the proposal,” the NAEA letter added, “we will still live in a world in which dog groomers and manicurists will be required to demonstrate competency and tax return preparers will not.”