Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson to retire

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who has headed the Taxpayer Advocate Service at the Internal Revenue Service for 18 years, announced Friday that she will be retiring at the end of July.

In a blog post, Olson talked about the day 18 years ago, March 1, 2001, when she first walked through the doors of the IRS.

“In addition to celebrating my March 1 anniversary, I crossed another milestone a few weeks ago,” she wrote. “In the eyes of the Internal Revenue Code, I am now ‘elderly’ – that is, I am now of the age to qualify for the additional credit for the elderly under IRC § 22. This has caused me to reflect on how I want to proceed with the remaining stages of my life, and I have concluded that I am ready to move on to a new stage.”

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson at the NYU Tax Controversy Forum

Olson plans to make her official date of retirement on July 31, but she hopes to accomplish several tasks on her to-do list at the Taxpayer Advocate Service before that happens.

“I have a very short list of critical items I want to accomplish with respect to TAS before I retire — including publishing new IRM chapters on Taxpayer Assistance Orders and Taxpayer Advocate Directives, finalizing a regulation governing the operations of Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, and regaining the ability to hire attorney-advisors,” she wrote. “I have a slightly longer list of priority items for the IRS that Commissioner [Charles] Rettig has asked me to create; it includes developing an automated economic hardship risk indicator, developing mandatory employee training on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, developing guidance and training regarding the identification and public disclosure of Program Manager Technical Advice (PMTA) memoranda, and designing rights-based Notices of Deficiency, Collection Due Process Hearing notices, and Math Error notices. We will be very busy over the next few months!”

Olson has been helping taxpayers and advocating on their behalf over the years. Her duties have included publishing an annual report to Congress. Last month, her report highlighted the lingering impact of the partial government shutdown on the IRS (see Taxpayer Advocate sees continuing impact on IRS from shutdown).

“From the minute I started this job in 2001, I have been focused on building an institution that would survive the comings and goings of any individual,” she wrote. “In a way, for 18 years, every action I have taken has been designed to prepare for the moment I would pass the leadership of TAS on to another person. Underlying all my actions and plans as the National Taxpayer Advocate has been a recognition that the Taxpayer Advocate Service is more than an organization — however independent — within a bureaucratic federal agency. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is a concept — an idea. It represents the proposition that taxpayers have rights and protections before the awesome taxation powers of the United States.“

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., commended Olson for her leadership over the years: “With all Nina Olson’s successes at identifying and helping to solve problems taxpayers face under our broken tax system, she deserves a public approval rating higher than puppies and apple pie,” he said in a statement. “She is the model public servant — a straight-shooting, hardworking individual whose commitment to making life easier for taxpayers has always been unquestionable. She’s been an invaluable resource for legislators, and I thank her for her many years of service. It won’t be easy to fill her shoes, but [Treasury] Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin owes it to America’s taxpayers to choose a new Taxpayer Advocate who mirrors Nina Olson’s honesty, independence and character.”

The National Treasury Employees Union also commended Olson: “NTEU congratulates National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson on her forthcoming retirement,” said NTEU national president Tony Reardon. “Olson lived up to her job title superbly these last 18 years as the authoritative voice on how the IRS, Congress and every administration can better serve the American taxpayers. NTEU valued her meticulously detailed reports that proved, time and again, that taxpayers benefit when IRS employees have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. Olson had high standards for the agency and its workforce, and her plain-spoken conclusions about how to meet those standards will be a roadmap for this and all future administrations.”

Olson plans to continue to advocate for taxpayers even after she leaves office. “I will be working full-tilt on advocating on behalf of taxpayers until the moment I walk out the door of 1111 Constitution Avenue on July 31,” she wrote. “And for what it’s worth, I will continue my lifelong advocacy for taxpayer rights after that date. Regardless of the Internal Revenue Code’s perspective on my age, I still feel eager for new adventures (some of which will involve goats and sheep, and their fiber). But that is the next chapter of my life, to be determined. In the meantime, there is much to be accomplished before the current chapter comes to a close. Onward!”

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