The Internal Revenue Service is planning to demonstrate an upcoming refresh of its IRS.gov website optimized for mobile users, along with a prototype of online accounts for tax professionals, at its IRS Nationwide Tax Forums this summer.

The IRS will also be showing some new features in the online taxpayer accounts it debuted last year. “Last November we released an online account feature for individual taxpayers,” said IRS director of online services Paul Mamo. “That’s now been out for almost eight or nine months, not with a lot of heavy publicity, but we’ve made a lot of releases, probably seven or eight, some on the back end and some front-end user experience pieces. Now taxpayers can actually go out there and look at their balance. They can quickly go to a transcript, and as recently as a couple of weeks ago, now you can go out and actually see what we’re calling a tax record snapshot. This was done just before the July 4 holiday.”

The IRS plans to preview a new refresh to the IRS.gov design that will make it more usable for people on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. “It’s going to be more of a simple redesign,” said Mamo. “If you’ve been on IRS.gov, we have quite a bit of links on the home page. There’s a lot of content and material, and what we’re trying to do is simplify that from a user’s perspective, both from a navigation standpoint but also being able to offer up a design that’s mobile friendly and mobile responsive. This redesign and refresh will be going live later this summer. That’s something we’ll be previewing with the tax professionals. The information that we got last year at the Tax Forums really helped inform our design features for this year.” The refreshed website will also have improved search features.

The IRS plans to demonstrate a prototype of the online accounts it has been developing for tax professionals, although much of the back end still needs to be built and isn’t scheduled for rollout anytime soon.

“We’ve actually put together a prototype of a tax professional account,” said Mamo. “That’s one thing that tax professionals have been very interested in wanting to know is when are you going to build something for us? When are you going to think about us from an account perspective? We took a lot of that feedback and we’ve put together what we think to be a fairly informative research prototype that really kind of walks the tax professional through a possible feature or two of what something could look like as a tax professional account. It’s primarily for research purposes. We’re not promising anything in terms of commitment or being out in the near term, but we’re using this as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we heard you. We’ve developed this protoype and give us some feedback.’ That’s another cool feature that we’ll be debuting this week as part of the first forum here.”

However, future development on such technology will likely be contingent on how much funding the IRS receives from Congress, with budget cuts likely again this year.

The forums begin Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Later this summer, the tax forums will take place in Dallas, National Harbor, Md., near Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Nev., and San Diego, Calif. The complete schedule is available at www.irstaxforum.com. Tax professionals who want to attend the forum in Dallas later this month can save $115 by registering by July 11.

A major emphasis at the forums this year will be cybersecurity as criminals increasingly target tax professionals through scams such as phishing emails. In conjunction with that initiative, the IRS is rolling out a public awareness campaign this week for tax pros to warn them about phishing, called “Don’t Take the Bait.”

“One of the reasons why we’re really encouraging tax professionals to come this year is we’re continuing to see cybercriminals targeting the tax professional community,” said Terry Lemons, chief of IRS communications and liaison. “We’ve had a lot of success in our efforts to slow identity theft, but we’ve noticed cybercriminals are increasingly trying to get information out of tax professionals. Using email, they’re targeting tax professionals and the payroll community. They’re getting increasingly sophisticated trying to get at the underlying data needed to file tax returns. A central point of what we’re doing at the Tax Forums this summer is spending some time doing a deeper dive on some security steps that tax professionals can take to protect themselves. We continue to get reports coming in of tax professionals being targeted.”

The IRS also plans to have a follow-up to last year’s session on its “Future State,” along with a perennially popular session on changes to the tax laws over the past year. IRS officials will also do their best to inform tax professionals about what to do amid the uncertainties surrounding tax reform and health care reform in Congress.

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Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.