The Internal Structure of TIGTA

Most of the time the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is described as a government watchdog; an entity charged with keeping tabs on the Internal Revenue Service.  The Honorable J. Russell George, the guy in charge at TIGTA, describes TIGTA’s role as follows:

[W]e provide the American taxpayer with assurance that the approximately 95,000 IRS employees who collected over $2.9 trillion in tax revenue, processed over 241 million tax returns, and issued $364 billion in tax refunds during FY 2013, do so in an effective and efficient manner while minimizing the risks of waste, fraud, or abuse.

~ J. Russell George’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 30, 2014

Besides providing a neat little collection of IRS statistics, this description very succinctly describes TIGTA’s role in U.S. tax administration.  But the organizational structure of this “watchdog” is more complex than would appear in this description.  There are three offices within TIGTA, each with different, but overlapping, responsibilities.

TIGTA Office of Audit (OA)

OA recommends improvements to IRS systems and operations, with an emphasis on detection and prevention of waste, abuse, and fraud.  OA is also charged with ensuring that the IRS strikes a balance between aggressive tax collection on the one hand, and the fair & equitable treatment of taxpayers on the other.

TIGTA Office of Investigations (OI)

OI has two primary responsibilities.  One is to investigate allegations of IRS employee misconduct (including extortion, theft, taxpayer abuses, false statements, financial fraud, and identity theft), which poses a significant threat to the idea of voluntary compliance and trust in the US government.  The other is to investigate and (in cooperation with the Department of Justice) put a stop to harassment and threats levied against IRS personnel by disgruntled taxpayers and tax protestors.

TIGTA Office of Inspections and Evaluations (I&E)

There is definitely some overlap in the functions of I&E  compared to the functions of the two primary offices (Audits & Investigations) described above.  However, I&E can be seen as a “lower-level”  investigative arm of TIGTA that provides in-depth reviews and assessments so both TIGTA and the IRS have a better idea of how specific programs and functions are progressing.

You may not think TIGTA has much to do with you as an individual taxpayer, but I’m not sure how much the IRS would care about customer service and average hold times if TIGTA wasn’t monitoring and auditing that and a thousand other daily functions.

2013 IRSAC Report

The Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council (IRSAC) released its annual report today, which included recommendations for improving efficiency at the IRS.  Here are some of the points that stood out to me:

1. Expand awareness of OPA

Online Payment Agreement (OPA) is a tool that some taxpayers may use to enter into installment agreements if they meet certain criteria.  IRSAC says that the IRS should be doing more to encourage taxpayers to use OPA rather than call and waste their time on the phone.

 Of the more than 3.1 million total installment agreements created in FY 2012, less than 3 percent (92,519) used the OPA to enter into an installment agreement.

The reason I don’t use OPA is I have found that getting a live body on the phone normally results in a better deal.   Plus, the other day I was playing around with it and it wasn’t even working.

2. Reduce processing time for Form 2848, Power of Attorney

3.4 million Power of Attorney forms were filed in fiscal year 2012, but less than 10 percent were filed electronically.  The IRS subsequently discontinued electronic filing a few months ago.  IRSAC recommends going back to electronic filing and making changes to the form in order to reduce errors that cause them to be returned.  I use e-fax to file my Power of Attorney forms.  It is quick, inexpensive, and paperless — as close to electronic filing as you can get.  In my experience, the processing time has been relatively quick: around 5-7 days usually.

One of the other problems that IRSAC addressed is duplicate filing, which happens when a practitioner files a 2848 and then doesn’t have the patience to wait a week.  If that practitioner then calls the IRS and tries to gain access to the account before the POA has been processed, the IRS representative will have him/her fax the POA while waiting on the phone.  Sometimes the IRS rep will forward that POA on to the CAF Unit without first checking with the practitioner to see if it has already been filed.

3. Update the transcript request policy on the PPS Line

The Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) phone line is for tax attorneys, accountants, enrolled agents, and such.  If you have ever dealt with the IRS by phone then you know how ridiculous the hold times can get.  The IRS call center employees should be answering unique questions, taking financial information, and resolving tax accounts; they shouldn’t have to do something that a practitioner can easily do him/herself.  Some firms have a habit of calling in and tying up phone lines for simple transcript requests when transcripts can more efficiently be ordered electronically via the IRS website or through the automated phone system.

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.