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Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP)    

By Andrea Price, TAP member representing Ohio
The Truth Contributor

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel comprises civic-minded citizen volunteers from all walks of life representing each state, D.C., Puerto Rico, and an international member (citizens living, working, or doing business abroad). TAP is a Federal Advisory Committee whose mission is to listen to taxpayers, identify taxpayers’ issues, and make suggestions for improving the IRS service and customer satisfaction.

Everyone has something to say about taxes and the IRS. Please take a moment to give us your suggestions for TAP to consider by contacting one of the following:

TAP Ohio member: tapohioandreaprice@gmail.com

Call toll-free at:1-888-912-1227

Website: www.improveirs.org

National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins submitted the Taxpayer Advocacy Service semi-annual report to Congress on June 30, 2021. A few highlights from her written report are outlined below.

During the past year, more than 170 million individuals and millions of businesses received financial relief through three rounds of stimulus payments, Paycheck Protection Program loans, and Employee Retention Credits.

The IRS Finished the Filing Season with Over 35 million Tax Returns Awaiting Manual Reviews. The IRS finished the filing season with a backlog of over 35 million individual
and business income tax returns that require manual processing — meaning that employee involvement is generally required before a return can advance to the next stage in the processing pipeline. The backlog includes about 16.8 million paper tax returns waiting to be processed; about 15.8 million returns suspended during processing that require further review; and about 2.7 million amended returns awaiting processing.

The IRS Received Over Four Times as Many Telephone Calls as in 2020 which Resulted in Historically Poor Service. The IRS received more telephone calls during the 2021 filing season than it had ever received in a full fiscal year. During the height of the filing season, the IRS at one point received telephone calls at the rate of about 1,500 per second. Needless to say, IRS employees could not handle this massive volume of calls. The IRS reported a “Level of Service” on its Accounts Management telephone lines of 15 percent, with only seven percent of taxpayer calls reaching a telephone assistor. The most frequently called toll-free number is the “1040” line for individual income tax services. It logged about 85 million calls, and only three percent of calls (i.e., three out of 100) reached a Customer Service Representative (CSR)

Each year, Congress appropriates a budget and allocates funds for specific tasks. This year, Congress funded the IRS to provide a 60 percent level of service with its CSRs — meaning it was anticipated that in a normal year, pre-pandemic, CSRs would answer six out of every ten calls routed to them. I believe that percentage, even in a good year, is unacceptable. For future budgets, I urge Congress to provide funding to achieve a level of service closer to 100 percent, and I urge the IRS to continue exploring ways to achieve greater efficiencies with its phone service. In my view, phone assistance is not merely an option or a luxury. The ability to talk with an IRS employee by phone to facilitate tax compliance is a fundamental right and a cornerstone of good tax administration.

The following are recommended proactive steps to improve communication between the IRS and its customers:

Prioritize the development of accessible, robust online accounts. The IRS offers an online account option for individual taxpayers, but its usefulness is limited in two ways. First, most taxpayers who try to establish online accounts fail because they cannot pass the e-authentication requirements. Second, the functionality of the accounts is very limited.

Expand customer callback technology to all IRS toll-free telephone lines. Many businesses and federal agencies with large telephone call centers offer customers the option of receiving a callback when the wait time to speak with a CSR is long. The IRS offers this option on some of its telephone lines, but the option is not yet offered on most lines, including the high-volume lines.

Reduce barriers to e-filing tax returns. One of the biggest challenges the IRS has faced over the past year has been processing paper returns. Although more than 90 percent of individual taxpayers now e-file their returns, about ten percent still mail them in on paper. Many of these taxpayers would prefer to file electronically but are prevented from doing so by IRS e-filing limitations. There are three principal limitations: (i) taxpayers sometimes are required to submit statements or other substantiation with their returns, and these attachments generally cannot be e-filed; (ii) some tax forms used by limited numbers of taxpayers are not accepted electronically; and (iii) taxpayers sometimes need to override default entries when preparing their returns with tax software, and some of these overrides render returns ineligible for e-filing.

Utilize scanning technology for individual income tax returns prepared electronically but submitted on paper. When taxpayers file returns on paper, IRS employees must manually transcribe the data line-by-line into IRS systems. In FY 2020, the IRS received about 17 million individual income tax returns and millions of business and other tax returns on paper. Manually entering data from so many paper returns is an enormous task, and transcription errors are common, particularly on longer returns. Transcription errors result in more work for the IRS and taxpayers; namely, notices to taxpayers, taxpayer telephone calls, and taxpayer correspondence that must be reviewed and evaluated. Scanning technology is available that would allow the IRS to machine read paper returns and avoid the need for manual data entry.

Offer videoconferencing options to taxpayers. Videoconference technology allows taxpayers and their authorized representatives to be both seen and heard and to share documents without being physically present. The IRS Independent Office of Appeals offers WebEx technology for virtual face-to-face conferences among taxpayers, representatives, and Appeals Officers. The IRS Office of Chief Counsel and the U.S. Tax Court are also conducting video communications and virtual trials using ZoomGov.com. Although video conferencing should not replace in-person or telephone conference options, it adds a vital human interaction option to enable communication with taxpayers when appropriate. It may provide options for taxpayers with difficulty traveling or the inability to take extended time off from work.