Timely and meaningful access to the Internal Revenue Service is what is most important to taxpayers and tax preparers, according to Troy K. Lewis, chair of the American Institute of CPAs’ Tax Executive Committee.
Lewis testified Tuesday at the public forum on “What Taxpayers Want or Need from the IRS to Comply with the Tax Laws,” which was hosted by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.
John Ams, executive vice president of the National Society of Accountants, testified at the same hearing, calling on the IRS to make sweeping improvements to its outdated technology and use this new technology to facilitate more efficient and productive personal contact with taxpayers.
To achieve the goal of more timely and meaningful access, Lewis said, the IRS needs to focus on three areas: utilizing modern and secure technology, hiring and training knowledgeable employees, and regularly seeking and utilizing stakeholder engagement.
Among the specific technology suggestions Lewis made were multiple options for contacting the IRS, such as calling, emailing or access through a secure online portal, as well as video chat. “When you must rely on old-fashioned letters, interacting with the IRS is a slow process,” he said.
Lewis cited a personal experience he had this past filing season exemplifying what taxpayers need. A client brought in a standard, computer-generated notice the IRS had sent requesting information about capital gain income. The income, which was reported to the IRS on a Form 1099-B, was properly reported on the client’s tax return and the appropriate amount of income tax had been paid.
“There was no error on the return,” Lewis said. “However, due to requirements in its matching system, the IRS needed additional information to verify the income was properly reported.”
“The notice was a mere case of matching the third-party information reported to the RIS with information reported on the return. However, it took me two letters and four months to resolve this notice,” Lewis added. “It was a highly inefficient experience and an example of where change is clearly needed.”
In addition, Lewis said, the IRS should provide a fully integrated electronic system, such as online accounts similar to what some states use (for example, California’s MyFTB). And, in the interest of efficiency, he said, the IRS should focus on developing and improving practitioner tools, such as online account resolutions and options to submit a Power of Attorney.
“A critical component of ensuring meaningful access to the IRS is regularly providing a systematic, reliable and economical source of training to their employees,” Lewis stated. “In order to answer basic questions and to keep up with changing tax laws, IRS representatives need consistent, quality training, comparable to that offered to a tax practitioner. This lack of training often results in poor customer service,” he observed.
Finally, Lewis testified, “It is critical that the IRS actively pursues stakeholder (taxpayer, tax preparer and other IRS customers) engagement, particularly on major organizational changes such as the IRS Future State. Stakeholders such as CPAs, who are on the ‘frontline,’ can provide sound recommendations to ensure the needs of taxpayers, tax practitioners and the government are met.”
Lewis explained that the AICPA received an initial briefing on the IRS Future State initiative and said, “While we are encouraged with the overview that was shared with us, we strongly believe continued stakeholder involvement during the decision making process is essential. We all have a vested interest in the success of the IRS.”
Meanwhile, Ams of the National Society of Accountants recommended that the IRS implement technology upgrades that would allow any taxpayer or tax professional to submit a Form 2868 Power of Attorney and have immediate access to a client’s information; submit Form 1040X as an e-filed form; have a chat capability like many customer service companies to answer procedural questions; and have a secure email system for tax professionals in good standing to communicate with the IRS so that responses to any IRS correspondence can both be submitted an be logged as being timely received.
“Improved technology is not a replacement for personal contact with IRS personnel,” Ams concluded. “Rather, it is a means to make that contact more efficient and productive.”
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