I discovered the most amazing thing this week -- a report on a federal agency that was actually readable.
The National Taxpayer Advocate's annual report to Congress is mandated under the Internal Revenue Code to describe at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers each year. The problems the report actually describes are, for the most part, unsurprising. The No. 1 issue in the 2005 issue again stressed the need for legislators to make simplification of the tax system a reality. That's not a new call in Washington, just see the work of the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, and it's also one that looks to get very little traction in the current political landscape.
Advocate Nina Olson's report generated the most ink for the concerns it raised about the IRS's Questionable Refund Program, which has seen an increasing number of people seeking to help claim frozen refunds. The program is run by the IRS Criminal Investigation Office and uses computer programs to screen tax returns for indications of fraud. Olson laid out a number of damning statistics showcasing the a random sampling of cases were the vast majority of frozen refunds were fully distributed.
But the thing I appreciated about the report is that there was no finger pointing. A case was simply made, in less than 500 words, that first, there was a problem with the Questionable Refund Program, but second, that the program needed to exist. The report asked simply that better notification procedures be put in place to let taxpayers know they need to submit documentation in order for a quicker resolution.
As the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. The taxpayer advocate's report is one of the few I've seen that attempts to be part of the solution through concrete steps.
The other 20 problems outlined aren't borne out of rocket science. Under additional legislative recommendations, Olson mentions that there are currently no procedures in place for the Internal Revenue Service and financial institutions to solve errors made by taxpayers who request refund checks be made via direct deposit. Giving the IRS and banks the legislative muscle to correct the mistake just makes common sense.
Readable reports shouldn't be a refreshing oddity among the dozens of major reports the government releases every day. The taxpayer advocate's report, which also clearly details the steps being taken to jointly correct those major problems, is written for the very public the IRS is seeking to serve and from an independent office that has the ear of Congress. The issues and problems the report tackles are far from clear cut in many cases, but the honesty and lack of obfuscation is something I'd like to see offered from more agencies.
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