IRS Commissioner addresses tax pros on unprecedented tax season
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig expressed his appreciation to tax professionals Tuesday for their cooperation during the extended tax season that was prolonged by the novel coronavirus pandemic and pledged to deliver any future stimulus payments approved by Congress.
“I realize you’ve just been through a very challenging tax season, and for many of you, it’s not over yet,” he said during the IRS’s Nationwide Tax Forum, which is traditionally held in different cities around the country, but was only online this year due to the pandemic. “Even though the July 15 deadline has passed, there are still tax returns to be filed for some clients before October 15.”
Rettig, who was a tax practitioner himself before taking the lead at the IRS about two years ago, shared the feelings of many of the attendees. “I think it’s important at the outset to thank all of you for the critical support you provided this filing season, and every year,” he said. “As tax professionals, you play an essential role in the tax system by helping your clients fulfill their filing obligations. We should never forget how important your efforts are to tax administration, and to our country.”
He welcomed the input received from tax professionals. “I do understand, appreciate, invite and welcome the critical role that private tax practitioners and tax professionals play at every level,” he said. “I appreciate the interactions that we have with you, the comments that people make, and a lot of things come directly to me or indirectly to me, and we do pay attention. There are reasons why the IRS may not fully change into something that you might think would be obvious. It’s a big operation, a federal agency with a lot of different responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t listen and pay attention to suggestions that people have. So your efforts to try to help us are well received and will never be lost on us. When I was on the outside, I used to think and I still think that tax administration does not belong to anyone. It belongs to everyone, so the IRS has been laboring more on trying to get it right. I think that as tax professionals we all have a piece of that responsibility. Moving forward, I am actually excited about the future of the Internal Revenue Service. There were some silver linings during the past few months, including the fact that the IRS got much more virtual. We had as many as 56,140 employees teleworking at any one time. That was the high water mark. That’s 56,000 out of 80,000.”
He noted that the IRS has been working on its reorganization in line with the Taxpayer First Act that Congress passed last year in an effort to improve taxpayer service.
“We want to ensure we have the trust and respect of Americans and improve our working relationships with taxpayers and others in the tax community,” said Rettig. “We will continue to put taxpayers first, recognize the critical role our workforce plays in fulfilling our mission and make improvements across all lanes of our operations. We must also work hard to enhance every perspective of the taxpayer experience while enhancing both civil and criminal enforcement efforts and numerous other priorities. We are making a difference, and we will not stop in the successful pursuit of our mission on behalf of the greatest country in the world.”
This year, as a result of the pandemic, the IRS has been working during tax season to implement the CARES Act and to work as quickly as possible to process the Economic Impact Payments that went out to help millions of Americans get through the economic downturn.
“In fact, some Americans started seeing payments showing up in their banking accounts 14 days after the CARES Act was approved,” said Rettig. “By comparison, for the last stimulus payments in 2008, the first payments started reaching taxpayers in 75 days. So far, approximately 160 million Economic Impact Payments worth approximately $270 billion have been delivered — most by direct deposit and some by paper check. Working with our sister agency at Treasury, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, nearly 4 million payments by prepaid debit card were delivered.”
He pointed out that the IRS developed two new online tools in the midst of the pandemic while many of its employees were working remotely to help deliver the Economic Impact Payments: the Non-Filers tool, which allows people who normally don’t have a filing obligation to enter basic information so they could receive their payments more quickly; and the Get My Payment tool, which lets many taxpayers check the status of their payment.
However, Rettig acknowledged there are still many people who have yet to receive their much-needed payments, and he acknowledged that the tax professionals probably have heard similar complaints.
“There is a report that is coming out from an agency that is going to tell you that we were 98 percent accurate in the amount of the payments,” he said. “And when you realize all the variables that go into determining a payment because there are income variables and dependent-related variables — some people did not know they were a dependent on somebody else’s return and a whole lot of things came into that. You had people married and people get divorced between the years that we were looking at. There’s a tremendous population in the country that does not have a filing obligation. So there were numerous articles indicating that somebody didn’t get a payment or didn’t get the right amount of the payment. If you search far enough, you are going to find that the IRS is not perfect and there are areas that we need to do better and could do better. We are working hard to get to the people that we have not gotten to yet in terms of payment. There are some scenarios that did not come together as we would have hoped they would have come together, but I think it’s disrespectful to say to the employees of the Internal Revenue Service, considering the effort that they put forth from March to try to get this right.”
Rettig pointed out that IRS employees have been working long hours to deliver all the payments. “We had numerous people working 12-, 15-hour days, seven days a week to get this right,” he said. “And I think, from that perspective, that the employees deserve a lot of credit for pulling it together.”
He pointed out that Congress is working on another round of stimulus legislation that may include further Economic Impact Payments for taxpayers, and he indicated the IRS is preparing for that as well.
“Another bill is being discussed up on the Hill and if that legislation passes, there's a fair chance that the IRS will be given the opportunity to do it all over again,” he said. “And we will. We will do it as successfully as we can, and we will put everything back into place. To be on board during this period of time has been spectacular to watch it happen.”