Washington - In a bipartisan vote of 34-6, the House Ways and Means Committee has taken steps to enhance the fairness, efficiency and confidentiality of the Internal Revenue Service.

The Taxpayer Protection and IRS Accountability Act of 2002, offered by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., includes a number of changes to make IRS debt collection practices fairer to the taxpayer, and brings IRS penalties more in line with the infraction. It protects taxpayer privacy by making unauthorized browsing of taxpayer records by IRS staff a cause for immediate dismissal.

Additional funds included in the provisions authorizing Low Income Taxpayer Clinics will help provide legal assistance to more low-income Americans who find themselves in disputes with the IRS. Electronic filing of tax returns gets a boost in the legislation, with an extension of the deadline to April 30 for taxpayers who file their returns electronically.

- Electronic Accountant Staff

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