Q: Describe your practice. What are your clients’ greatest concerns regarding their taxes and financial planning?
A: I have been in the tax and financial services business for 32 years, and an Enrolled Agent since 1979. My practice consists principally of small business clients for whom I invest, tax plan and prepare tax returns. I am a registered representative with GE Financial Assurance. Additionally, I am a tax law instructor for the National Center for Professional Education (NCPE) teaching Partnership and Limited Liability Company (LLC) as well as Individual Tax Preparation. This May I will instruct for NCPE’s new TaxPayer Representation Series debuting in Hawaii.
My clients’ greatest concerns are that they develop a realistic goal for financial success and at various check points validate that they are on course. They are concerned about current financial positions but have a clear eye on the future as they plan college financing for their children, providing for aging parents, their own retirement and estate planning.
Q: What are the most important tax issues facing practitioners and their clients in 2000?
A: Our tax system, based upon the principle of “voluntary compliance”, is reliant upon the carrot and stick precept. The carrot being, if you report all your income and the proper expense, you get to sleep well at night. The stick: If you don’t, the tax man will come after you.
With an all but dormant IRS these last few years, more and more compliant taxpayers are hearing stories from friends, relatives and co-workers on how they have evaded taxes and in some cases, not even filed tax returns. All America is asking - where is the stick?
Practitioners in 2000 find themselves in a place of limbo, somewhere out there between the IRS and taxpayers. Having not only to explain the complexity of tax laws but why taxpayers should comply with them as well.
The Practitioner in 2000 will have to clearly differentiate to the taxpayer that we are not extensions or employees of the Internal Revenue Service but that we are “Tax Professionals” , whose knowledge and skill is directed at correctly reporting the income of the taxpayer along with every tax deduction to make certain that the tax dollar paid is the lowest possible.
Q: You were a member of the IRS’ Commissioner’s Advisory Group for a long time. Tell me about that experience and what has changed since then.
A: Appointed by then IRS Commissioner Peggy Richardson, I represented Small Business on the Commissioner’s Advisory Group. In the midst of Congressional criticism of IRS, Ms. Richardson resigned and Charles Rossotti was appointed. The mammoth task of restructuring an agency the size of the Internal Revenue Service is unimaginable, yet Commissioner Rossotti is moving his vision forward.
The difference in his attempt to reorganize the IRS and previous attempts, quite frankly, is Congressional support, not only in actual dollars budgeted for IRS but in the fact that Congress likes this commissioner.
Much is left to be done as IRS comes on line this year with a new organization. The new “kinder and friendlier” IRS will continue to rely upon IRS personnel to interact with taxpayers. Those IRS employees with any tenure with the agency need to have new “attitudes” clearly outlined and reinforced and monitored for compliance.
Unquestionably the single most important decision to date made by Commissioner Rossotti has been the establishment of the Office of Small Business under the Directorship of Sue Sottile in the National Office. Small Business now has an established champion! She and her extraordinary staff also have the responsibilities of Public Liaison under IRS executive Dave Williams where IRS relationships with practitioners are respected, where the opinions of the practitioner are valued and where the experience and opinion of the practitioner is sought after.
Perceptually, the IRS has changed a great deal within Washington. Once the bastard child of the Treasury, IRS now is being spoken of with great pride by U. S. Treasury Secretary Laurence Summers who praises not only the Commissioner but the agency overall.
Q: Do you feel the IRS is more receptive to practitioners’ concerns these days?
A: 1997 and 1998 brought Congressional mandate to the IRS with a clear direction toward taxpayer service. Since that time the IRS has been virtually invisible in the areas of tax examinations and collections. Quite recently Congressional questions have risen as to the effectiveness of this new IRS in the area of collecting revenue. There is no way around this: The Internal Revenue Service continues to be the world’s largest collection agency. Congress may be asking if legislation intended to make this agency more “taxpayer friendly” has backfired. Having recently worked on a joint educational project - IRS and the National Association of Enrolled Agents, I inquired as to why the IRS Revenue Officer out of California had been detailed out of the collection branch and onto this project. Her response, “I couldn’t take a taxpayers money right now if you handed it to me.”
As the IRS comes into its own, with this new direction, I expect a new willingness to listen to taxpayer concerns, an attempt to work with taxpayers to resolution of problems and a greater ability to solve problems quickly. All of this new attitude, however, must be balanced by efficient and fair collection of taxes.
Q: Do you think Congress will ever simplify the tax code?
A: No, and they shouldn’t. With complexity comes fairness!
Q: Where do you see the industry headed for Enrolled Agents and other tax field specialists?
A: The future is bright for EAs who seize the opportunity on the horizon. Emphasis on tax preparation will be far less, after all, “anyone can prepare” or so the commercial software manufacturers would have you believe. The value of a tax professional will be in tax planning, strategic advice and in the skills they possess to consult with taxpayers on daily issues of financial concern. The practitioner who views their service to a taxpayer solely as a tax return preparer, recording income and expense after the event, is likened unto a dinosaur on the verge of extinction.
The Enrolled Agent and all tax professionals must become indispensable to the taxpayer, playing an important role in the entire financial life of the taxpayer, meeting the needs, wishes and expectations based upon knowledge, ability and, most importantly, trust.
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