IRS keeps closing Taxpayer Assistance Centers
The Internal Revenue Service is continuing to close Taxpayer Assistance Centers around the country, despite recommendations to the contrary from the National Taxpayer Advocate and the Senate Appropriations Committee.
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson wrote a blog post last week pointing out that the IRS has closed nine of its walk-in centers since her report to Congress last December, in which she criticized the closure of such facilities, where taxpayers can talk face-to-face with IRS employees about their tax concerns. In December, she noted, the IRS operated 371 Taxpayer Assistance Centers, but today there are only 362.
That’s going against not only her recommendation that the IRS keep the TACs open, but also Congress’s, especially in the wake of the passage last December of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which is generating plenty of need for assistance for taxpayers as well as tax professionals. Olson pointed out that in March, when Congress passed an appropriations bill for the IRS and other parts of the federal government, the Senate Committee on Appropriations actually directed the IRS to produce a study about the impact of closing a Taxpayer Assistance Center and the adverse impact it has on taxpayers’ ability to interact with the IRS. The IRS is supposed to report on the steps it’s taking to prevent any closure of the TAC walk-in locations along with the status of possible alternatives, such as virtual customer service sites. The IRS is also supposed to convene a public forum in any affected community at least six months prior to a planned closure and notify the appropriations committees in both the House and the Senate.
However, that’s not been happening at all. Many of the closures appear to be occurring in rural communities, the Senate committee noted, leaving taxpayers with few options other than seeking out the assistance of paid tax professionals.
“It is clear the issue of TAC closures and declining services to taxpayers is of grave concern to the Committee, as it is to me,” Olson wrote. “I am astonished that the IRS has continued to close TACs in the face of this direction from the Senate Committee on Appropriations before even submitting the requested reports. I have long expressed my concerns about the impact of closing TACs, specifically on rural taxpayers who may not have another face-to-face option nearby to interact with the IRS. I eagerly await the release of the required reports so I (as well as the appropriations committees and other interested stakeholders) can review the findings of the IRS. To date, my office has not been consulted by the IRS regarding these reports.”
The IRS issued a statement Monday in response to Olson’s concerns. “The IRS uses its limited resources to provide the best possible service to America's taxpayers,” it said. “The IRS is complying with congressional requirements regarding the closure of any taxpayer assistance centers. Helping taxpayers with face-to-face service either in-person at assistance centers or virtually through secure networks will remain an integral part of the IRS’ customer service strategy.”
The agency has been dealing with a series of budget cuts at the hands of Congress in recent years and has been focusing this year on implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Republicans pushed through Congress last December. The agency also doesn’t yet have a full-time chief. David Kautter, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Tax Policy, has been filling the role of acting commissioner of the IRS since the departure in November 2017 of Commissioner John Koskinen. The full Senate has not yet confirmed the Trump administration’s nominee, Chuck Rettig, although the Senate Finance Committee did vote to advance his nomination last month. Rettig is a Beverly Hills tax attorney whose clients can well afford the services of a high-priced practitioner. But for the average taxpayer the door is often closed when they try to visit an IRS office for help and discover the Taxpayer Assistance Center isn’t around anymore to assist them.