TAS Not Happy with IRS Future Plan

TAS Not Happy with IRS "Future Plan"

The IRS is devising nefarious plans behind our backs. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s (TAS) annual report to Congress, for the past year and a half the IRS has been developing a “future state” plan whereby it will drastically cut back on the face-to-face and telephone assistance it provides to taxpayers. This isn’t really new; the IRS has for some time now been trying to redirect taxpayers and point them towards irs.gov to find answers to their questions because they don’t have sufficient funding and they don’t have sufficient personnel to provide one-on-one help to everyone who seeks it. The only difference now is that they appear to be doing something about it, albeit secretively.

Implicit in the plan — and explicit in internal discussion — is an intention on the part of the IRS to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers.

~ TAS 2016 Annual Report to Congress

Nina Olsen, head of TAS, stated that these plans should be made public so that taxpayers and tax professionals can have their voices heard and so they can be prepared for whatever changes come their way. Also, she says, the IRS needs to be specific about how much it will be cutting back on personal service. So far the IRS has done nothing to make their “future state” plan public or to solicit comments and input from stakeholders.

The IRS contends that TAS is misjudging their “future state” plan. According to the IRS, as they beef up alternative “self-service interactions,” it frees up phone lines for those who are not comfortable with online resources. The problem with this line of thinking is it assumes that those who call the IRS are not comfortable with researching their issue on the IRS website. I think the number of people who avoid the IRS website because they don’t have a computer or they don’t know how to research an issue online is relatively small. If people have specific questions and they think they can find the answer online, they’ll look online. But if they need a dialogue or if they have a series of question, or if they have a unique set of fact (which is very common), or if they need something more than a cookie cutter black & white answer, then they turn to the phone. I have been involved in the tax industry, and more specifically tax resolution, for about 10 years, and can confidently say that if there is any chance I can find the help I need on the IRS website, I will definitely go there before dedicating an entire afternoon to the IRS telephonic abyss.

The IRS is Confused Enough on their Own; Don't Make it Worse

Modesto, CA

Good thing I have this blog as a place to vent my frustrations with the IRS.  It has been like my therapist over the years.

I can really identify with Robert Wood’s article today about 1099 forms.  It was obviously written from the perspective of a seasoned (and perhaps a bit jaded) tax veteran who doesn’t really trust the IRS to get things right.  Basically Mr. Wood is of the opinion that if you do not receive a 1099 that you expect to receive, you might want to think twice before calling and asking for it.  Why?  Because you don’t need the actual form in order to file your taxes, as long as you were conscientious enough to track all of your income independently.  You just need the figures.  And if you happen to request a copy of something that was already issued, or is already queued up to be issued, there is a real chance that the 1099 could be sent out twice.  Of course if you get a duplicate 1099, you are smart enough to recognize it as a duplicate, but the same cannot necessarily be said for the IRS.  And if the IRS counts double the income, then there’s a problem.

Yes, it can be very frustrating dealing with the IRS.  All that hype about how difficult the 2015 tax season will be — I don’t think it’s hype.  When calling IRS service centers, I am witnessing hold times that are longer than I can ever remember.  I recently spent an hour and a half on hold with three different phone reps trying to get through to the Collections Department (ACS).  I dialed ACS directly, but each time I was told that I had not reached collections.  I think what happens is, if the phone lines are extra busy, callers are automatically re-routed to non-ACS service centers.  But the system doesn’t alert you when it is doing this, so you are forced to wait until somebody picks up.  In my experience, the Practitioner Priority Service line is not any better.

I’m done venting now, thanks for listening.   See you next week my therapist-blog.

Testing My Theory

Apparently it wasn’t only me who thought the new Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) guidelines were ambiguous.  I don’t think the PPS customer service reps understand them either.  The best I could tell, I thought that they would be checking qualifications more closely, maybe even refusing to speak with anybody lacking a duly executed power of attorney.

It wasn’t long before I was able to test my theory.  Here’s how my first post-Jan. 6th PPS call went:

IRS: “How can I help you today, Mr. Wetenkamp?”

ME: “It’s my first call on this case; can you just give me an account overview such as balances due, missing returns, collection status, etc.?”

IRS: “Oh no, we can’t help you with that sort of thing anymore.  As of January 6, 2014 we are only allowed to assist you with active tax issues.”

ME: “WELL THEY DO OWE TAXES, DON’T THEY?!”

IRS: “Uh, . . . well, . . . yes.”

When the IRS makes informal procedure adjustments it is usually impossible to tell how they will materialize at the individual call centers.  For one thing, call center managers do not always interpret internal memoranda uniformly, so it is common to have slight variations from one city to the next.  But even if all IRS managers agreed, something inevitably gets lost between the team meeting where the memo is thoroughly explained and the cubicles of IRS rank and file.  You’ve probably heard anecdotally that the IRS doesn’t follow its own rules.  Well, this is precisely where it comes from and it happens every single day.

 

Changes Announced for PPS Phone Line

Now I know why the hold times are so long when I call the IRS.

Some people think tax attorneys have a special dedicated phone line at the IRS and we can simply pick up and talk to whomever we want whenever we please.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, we do have a special practitioner phone line, but during peak call times I don’t think it makes much of a difference, at least not lately.  The Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) phone line has, in my opinion, never been the same since the government shutdown in October 2013.

The IRS recently announced some changes to PPS.  The IRS says that, effective January 6, 2014, they will only be able to help tax professionals with tax questions through the PPS phone lines.  You have to be kidding me!  Isn’t this the whole point?!  What this means to me is that I have consistently been waiting on hold for an hour each time I call because the PPS phone reps have been taking calls from non-practitioners with irrelevant questions!  This is beyond annoying.

This is all a little tongue-in-cheek because I think what the IRS really means is that PPS reps are going to be checking to see if the practitioner has a valid Power of Attorney on file for the account they want to discuss before answering long-winded questions that have nothing to do with specific taxpayer issues.

Also, the service is no longer going to honor live telephone transcript requests.  This makes sense because there are so many other ways to obtain transcripts such as through the automated phone service, irs.gov website, and by mail.  There is no sense in clogging up the practitioner phone lines with unnecessary requests.  I wonder if the hold times will get any shorter after January 6th.  One can only hope.

July 22nd: Optional Work Day for IRS Employees

Tax attorneys and other tax professionals plan their work days around their interactions with the IRS.  So, when the IRS is closed on a weekday, they take note.

Earlier this year the IRS had announced a series of planned nationwide furlough days to help with its “bottom line,” one of them to take place on Monday, July 22nd.  Then a couple days ago the acting IRS Commissioner, Daniel Werfel, announced by way of internal memorandum that the agency would no longer be forcing its employees to take that day off.  The furlough scheduled for July 22nd was lifted.  However, realizing that many IRS personnel have already made plans for a three-day weekend, Werfel is allowing anyone to still take the day off if they want.

So what does this mean for tax professionals who need to contact the IRS on July 22nd?  What can we expect?

In my years of working in the field of tax controversy, I have come to realize the impossibility of trying to predict too much when it comes to the IRS.  But my guess is that Monday is not going to be the best day to call them.  Given the opportunity to take a 3-day weekend with pay, what IRS employee would come in and work (besides may the overzealous brown noser or somebody too dim to realize he doesn’t have to be there)?!  I think the IRS is going to be severely understaffed, probably to the point that it would be no different than a furlough day from taxpayers’ point of view.  And those that do go in to work on the 22nd are going to be stressed and unhelpful.  It’s probably best to wait until Wednesday or Thursday if you need to call the IRS next week.

I have noticed that one of the consequences of the furlough days thus far has been a sharp increase in hold times when trying to call into the IRS.  People that don’t get through on a furlough Monday tend to call back on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, etc.  The calls pile up just like all their other work.  These days it is not unusual to wait 45-60 minutes before the IRS picks up you call.

IRS Stat Interpretation

I always find it interesting that when the IRS comes out with new statistics, they try to distort them ever so slightly to appear more in their favor.  Or the IRS will highlight one thing and downplay another.  Most of the time it’s hard to see what benefit they find in this.  Here is an example I found on the News & Events page of the IRS website that compares data from May 10, 2013 with data gathered at this time last year.

The article bears the title “More Taxpayers e-file from home in 2013,” which also happens to be the first distortion.  There are a number of statistics on this page, including the drop in number of refunds issued, the drop in refund dollar amounts, and the drop in total money refunded countrywide.  That’s a pretty important statistic, isn’t it?  And never mind the fact that the total number of tax returns received so far has dropped as well as the total number of tax returns that have been processed.  That kind of information could have made an equally relevant title, right?

And the most drastic percentage change (in this news release) from 2012 to 2013 was regarding irs.gov visits.  As of May last year, 255,269,615 people had accessed the IRS website looking for information about their individual tax questions.  This year that number climbed to 318,408,842.  That’s a 24.7 percent increase!  This was also a stat that the IRS liked because they flagged it and noted that “More people are using IRS.gov to get answers, file their returns and resolve issues.”  But are they really obtaining a positive result on the website?  This is the way I interpret the stat: the IRS can’t take many taxpayer calls because there is not enough money to hire the right number of personnel, so people have resorted to finding things on their own on irs.gov.