For many Americans, the IRS is like the Grinch who stole Christmas.
Nothing spoils the spirit of the season like a reminder that Tax Day is little more than three months away. Although no one relishes the idea of paying taxes, for many Americans the rub lies with the sheer complexity of the tax code and mismanagement by the federal agency that administers it.
As a longtime taxpayer watchdog, I hound the IRS to improve “service” at the Internal Revenue Service. I’ve secured legislative reforms to help ensure that all taxes owed are paid and more importantly, collected fairly. For example, my bipartisan IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 enacted 71 new taxpayer rights to rein in bad management and improve customer service for taxpayers, especially small businesses. Prior to that, I supported reforms that created the Office of National Taxpayer Advocate to serve as an independent voice for taxpayers inside the IRS and to advise Congress on ways to improve administrative practices at the federal tax collection agency. Each year I review its two annual reports to determine if the IRS is measuring up to its obligations to properly administer the tax laws and serve taxpayers.
Let’s not fool ourselves. No tax collecting entity is likely to win a popularity contest. On the other hand, the IRS is more likely to be crowned most unpopular. (Although the EPA may snag runner-up in that category.)
A string of missteps, including fiscal incompetence, mismanagement and political targeting has undermined the credibility of the IRS in the eyes of the taxpaying public. Singling out law-abiding taxpayers for their political affiliation is indefensible in the United States of America. That’s why I’m continuing to scrutinize practices at the IRS and working to nip future assaults on taxpayer privacy and political affiliation. The IRS must keep its nose out of the political process and has no business trying to influence it or intimidate taxpayers. It’s pretty brazen that the IRS would assign resources to track political affiliation and scrub non-profits for donor information when it has struggled for decades to update its antiquated computer architecture and adopt 21st century information technology.
Misplacing priorities has become a recurring theme at IRS headquarters. Consider that it hung up on more than 8 million taxpayers this year who called in for assistance with their tax returns. What’s more, the agency seems more hung up on the union activities of its workforce and is spread thin because so many of its employees are sitting at home on paid administrative leave. Despite these misplaced priorities, the IRS prioritized $60 million in employee bonuses this year.
The good news is that Congress took steps in December to dial up better customer service and remove the lumps of coal left in taxpayers’ stockings by gross mismanagement and unethical standards of stewardship at the IRS.
New taxpayer rights I co-authored with Sen. John Thune this summer were passed and sent to the president’s desk, which he signed.
It writes a number of my Taxpayer Bill of Rights provisions into federal statute. Now when taxpayers go into a meeting with the IRS, the following 10 rights go with them: be informed; quality service; pay no more than the correct amount of tax; challenge the position of the IRS and be heard; appeal a decision of the IRS in an independent forum; finality; privacy; confidentiality; retain representation; and, a fair and just tax system. Other pro-taxpayer provisions folded in end-of-year legislation include reforms that:
- prohibit IRS employees from using personal email accounts for official business;
- permit 501(c)(4) entities and other organizations to seek timely review in federal court if the IRS drags its feet on making a determination on a tax-exempt application;
- clarify termination of employment at the IRS for taking official actions for political purposes; and,
- ban the IRS from imposing the gift tax on donations to 501(c) organizations to prevent the agency from misusing the tax code as an intimidation tactic to screen for political affiliation.
The IRS has tremendous authority over the taxpaying public. As always, I work to make sure federal agencies remember they serve the people, not the other way around. I’ll keep working to rein in abuses of government authority where I see it.
I also work to improve compliance tools to help recoup uncollected taxes. Let’s face it. Our system of voluntary compliance hinges on the concept that all taxpayers pay their fair share. Tax cheats undermine the system and create a heavier burden on law-abiding taxpayers. To help narrow the tax gap, root out tax fraud and deter evasion, I champion the IRS whistleblower program and supported the resurrection of the private debt collection program to make our tax collection system work as fairly and efficiently as possible.
When tax season opens after the New Year, these new taxpayer rights will be on the books. Taxpayers work hard enough to make ends meet at home and run their businesses without worrying about the IRS making unscrupulous decisions that only a Grinch would approve.
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