The Human Element

The Human Element

Sometimes I complain (mostly to myself, and sometimes to other people who don’t care) that the IRS customer service employees are like robots. They tend to go by the book even when there presents itself a more common sense and just solution. There is very little emotion or sensitivity for the struggling taxpayer who is burdened by a bank levy or wage garnishment. However, sometimes I am reminded that the flip side can be just as bad: the human response can at times be ugly too. The employees who make up the IRS are actually human beings with all the same passions and foibles as regular folks, and there’s no better reminder than when we hear of IRS agents accepting bribes.

After IRS Agent, Paul Hurley, allegedly saved a medical marijuana dispensary owner a million dollars in an audit, he suggested that, in exchange for the good deed, the owner give him $20,000. As if he thought he was being wire tapped, or as if it is somehow less obviously bribery when no words are used, the IRS agent rubbed his thumb over the top of his index and middle finger in the universal sign for “cash money.” He should have gone with his gut on this one because later, when payment day arrived, the FBI would be watching the whole thing. These kinds of deals almost always end badly for the IRS employee because as much as the IRS doesn’t trust taxpayers with delinquent tax accounts (especially when tied to a medical pot store), taxpayers trust IRS agents even less. As you can imagine, our guy in this story didn’t take long to decide before he was on the phone with the authorities tipping them off. Hurley’s trial begins this week.

The puzzling thing about this story is that Hurley demonstrates a significant amount of remorse in his resignation letter but his attorneys state that he denies soliciting a bribe. In fact, his attorneys say that Hurley was actually being offered a job to assist with the company’s books and the $20k was just up-front payment for this little side job! Even though I am one, I find it incredible what attorneys will say sometimes.

More Aggressive Collection Trend at IRS

In a report released publicly this week, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) stated that taxpayer satisfaction should be a factor in measuring the effectiveness of the IRS Collections Department.  I like to think the IRS will also be concerned with the satisfaction levels of taxpayers’ representatives.  In all my years of practice, I have never been asked about how satisfied I was with the interactions I had with a call center employee.  I have never been asked to complete a satisfaction survey at the conclusion of a revenue officer case.  But, maybe things are going to change.

Although they would have you believe otherwise, based on my experience, the IRS is primarily concerned with collecting revenue.  Afterall, just how effective would Collections be if they focused mainly on customer satisfaction?  The report doesn’t seek to conceal this fact.  Here are some interesting statistics that caught my eye:

  • The average dollars collected per revenue officer was 14 percent higher in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 than in FY 2009.
  • The dollars collected through installment agreements in FY 2011 were 32 percent higher than the amount collected in FY 2009.
  • Overall, the total dollars collected in FY 2011 were 20 percent higher than the amount collected in FY 2009 even though there were fewer revenue officers on staff.

This is not the best news for those with unpaid taxes.  When revenue officers go about collecting dollars, they do so through asset seizures, wage garnishments, bank levies, etc.  So the fact that this statistic is on the rise, I think tells us something about the aggressiveness of IRS collections, especially because they’re doing it with fewer people these days.