Karen Hawkins, director of the IRS’s Office of Professional Responsibility, is stepping down in July from her position, which probes Circular 230 violations by tax practitioners.
In an email last week to tax professionals, Hawkins wrote a farewell message. “After 48 continuous years in various professional capacities, 36 in the practice of law, the last six as Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility, I have decided to take a little holiday,’ she wrote. “My retirement resignation has been tendered to, and accepted by, Commissioner [John] Koskinen, and we have agreed that my last day as an IRS employee will be July 11, 2015.”
Hawkins noted that when former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman had originally asked her to assume the position of director of OPR, they shared a vision and multiple goals. “The vision was to bring reasonable but firm oversight to the unregulated return preparer industry to ensure tax return preparers were both competent and scrupulous in their dealings with the nation’s taxpayers and with the tax administration system,” she wrote. “The goals were to enhance the credibility, visibility and stature of the Office of Professional Responsibility and Circular 230 at all levels of professional tax practice.”
She acknowledged there was still some way to go in realizing that vision. “While the vision has yet to be achieved, I believe the goals have not only been reached, but surpassed,” she wrote. “There can be no doubt that recognition of the Office and the Regulations Governing Practice before the IRS has increased exponentially in the past six years.”
Hawkins pointed out that six years ago when she gave her first speeches to tax professionals and IRS personnel, few people outside the Enrolled Agent ranks knew what the Office of Professional Responsibility was or did. Many tax professionals also had no idea what Circular 230 was, or that they were subject to its jurisdiction, she noted.
“Even fewer had any idea how the disciplinary process worked: black hole,’ star chamber,’ backwater’ were the terms that were routinely floated when OPR/Cir 230 were mentioned,” she wrote.
Hawkins acknowledged that the IRS’s efforts to require mandatory testing and continuing education of all tax preparers had been defeated in court.
“The recent litigation setbacks associated with tax return preparer regulation have been discouraging for all of us,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I have no crystal ball on the topic. I do know, however, that it is crucial for those of you who believe an ethical, fair, transparent and credible tax administration system is absolutely essential to this country to continue to practice your trade at the highest level and to press others for the same.”
However, she saluted the tax professional community. “I have had the pleasure to meet and talk with literally thousands of you at this juncture,” she wrote. “I know you are solid ethical and professional people making every effort to serve your clients and tax administration in appropriate ways. It is important as you continue in your profession that you remain mindful of the overriding broad ethical principles contained in Circular 230 and resist the temptations to get away with’ the behavior less scrupulous individuals use to lure and keep clients.”
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