IRS: The Raiders of Government Agencies

Usually when people are dressed in black surrounding a hole in a solemn ceremony, its a funeral.  But Tony Sparano, the interim head coach of the 0-4 Oakland Raiders, gathered the team for a special symbolic football burial this week.  He said that the football represented the first four games of the season.  The hope is that this little exercise will help the team to put it all behind them and move forward with a clean slate.

Maybe the IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, should do something like this with his team.  I’m not sure what item(s) could be used to represent the past few years of missteps at the IRS, but to really drive the point home he would need to dig a hole the size of the Grand Canyon.  Actually, come to think of it, maybe they already did this exercise using Lois Lerner’s hard drive.  Nobody would ever consider that the IRS actually physically buried her emails in the ground.

Oakland Raiders vs. Internal Revenue Service.  Obviously the comparisons are unlimited given the fact that a Raider is actually a pirate, and a pirate is known for forcefully taking one’s hard-earned booty.  But I’ll leave this to your own imagination.

The $10,000 IRS "The Apprentice" Parody

Apparently it’s that time again.  That time when we poke fun at the IRS for idiotic mistakes, bad judgment, unfair rules, . . . horrendous training videos.  It has already become a regular topic for many writers and bloggers, but just how regular and how idiotic is up to the IRS.

Well, to be fair, the latest IRS training video, a spoof on Donald Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” was produced in 2011, around the same time as the now famous Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek videos.  So to say that the IRS is in total control of the negative press isn’t completely true; they’re still dealing with repercussions from the mistakes of a prior era, as they put it.  They claim to have a shorter chain on management and those that would have approved the ridiculous videos now.  Hopefully by now they have learned their lesson and are going to stick to things they are good at like bank levies and wage garnishment.

The Apprentice parody ranks right up there with the worst ever made.  I cannot for life of me imagine how it cost the IRS $10,000 to produce such utter garbage.  It was obviously filmed in one take, so even if they had to rent out the conference room to get just the right lighting and feel, it could not have been for more than a few hours.  They saved money on props by making some of them by hand and bringing others from home.  They saved money on wardrobe by wearing their own suits.  They even scrimped on the wig worn by the guy playing the part of “The Donald” — it was completely wrong.  Way too thick and way too dark.  And if they paid more than $100 to whoever was responsible for writing that train wreck of a script, then they got hustled.  One thing is for sure: these are 100% legitimate IRS amateurs, not paid actors, because they are horrible.

It’s pretty obvious that I derive a certain amount of selfish joy from critiquing IRS videos, but my primary reason for doing it is to help expose the underlying problem of waste.  This exposure has been difficult for the IRS.  Public relations are not the best right now.  I hope they have learned their lesson.


Is IRS Ready for Obamacare Amid Turmoil?

The IRS was selected as one of the main agencies to implement President Obama’s new health care law.  Many of the provisions will go into effect next year.  But it is difficult to see how the IRS will be able to get all its ducks in a row amid the tax exempt applications scandal, congressional scrutiny of overspending, and various leadership changes.  All this turmoil seems to have come at a time when the IRS will be needed most.

There were more than 40 tax code changes associated with the Affordable Care Act, many of which are still being hammered out.  Here are some of the tasks that the IRS faces in the coming months:

  • collect tax penalties from individuals who fail to obtain insurance and employers who fail to provide it
  • define key terms in the law such as “minimum value,” and “minimum essential coverage”
  • issue guidance on new forms

Will the IRS be ready, or will they try to request an extension?

Controversial IRS Parody Videos

There is plenty of controversy surrounding the IRS’ $4 million per year professional video production studio in New Carrollton, MD.  Most of the controversy has been stirred by a man named Charles Boustany, Jr., chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee who sees the studio as the ultimate in government waste.

In an attempt to gather details to strengthen his case against the IRS and its television studio, Boustany became aware of a couple parody videos produced by the IRS at a combined cost of $6o,000, and he wrote a letter to the IRS demanding that the videos be made public.  The IRS has admitted the existence of the videos and confirmed that they are indeed parodies of the old TV shows Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek, but the IRS has so far refused to release them to Boustany.

I’d be interested in seeing the videos too, although I admit it would be more out of morbid curiosity than anything else.  I feel like I’ve been shown a teaser for a movie that I’ll never get to see.  It’s easy to see both sides of the issue:

PROS: The production studio is necessary because the IRS has been able to create a popular collection of YouTube videos that are valuable for educating the taxpaying public.  The studio also provides a means for training and educating IRS employees through visual media, which is often less expensive than flying employees here and there for meetings in different cities.  Humor is an effective tool in training meetings.

CONS: Besides a few key videos (for example, one showing how to check the status of a refund, and one showing how to get your tax return prepared for free) the IRS YouTube videos are really not all that popular, so how much they actually help educate the general public is highly questionable.  High quality videos are fine in the right economic climate, but we just don’t have the money for this kind of thing right now.  Training videos don’t have to be entertaining.

You know, if an IRS employee can’t stay tuned into a regular boring video, then maybe they’re not the right person for the job because bean counting can be pretty boring too.

Help the IRS Reduce America's Tax Burden

You’ve probably never heard of the Taxpayer Burden Reduction (TBR) division of the IRS; few people have. TBR is led by senior advisor, Laurie Tuzynski, who recently explained her role in an official IRS video. Taxpayer Burden is defined as the time and money taxpayers spend to comply with their federal tax obligations. Here’s a perfect example: the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently stated that individuals and businesses spend an estimated 6.1 billion hours per year complying with tax filing requirements.

And that’s just prepping and filing taxes!  What about the time spent by taxpayers, tax attorneys, and other practitioners in resolving tax problems?

You can help TBR identify forms, procedures, and rules that are wasteful and overly-burdensome so they can go to work trying to simplify. And the procedure for doing so is fairly simple: you just need to fill out a Form 13285-A “Reducing Tax Burden on America’s Taxpayers.” This form asks you to explain the problem, identify the stakeholders (who it is that the problem affects), and propose your solution. However, if you feel that the “Reducing Tax Burden” form itself is overly-burdensome, there is a procedure for that too! And I quote:

If you have suggestions for making this form simpler, we would be happy to hear from you. You can e-mail us at *  Please put “Forms Comment” on the subject line.  Or you can write to [Tax Products Coordinating Committee].


The Neglected Government-Issued BlackBerry

Most people wouldn’t pay for internet service if they didn’t have a computer.  And most people wouldn’t keep the car insurance current on a rusted bucket of bolts that isn’t being driven.  But the IRS isn’t “most people.”  The latest report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reveals waste within the IRS that rivals situations like these.

According to TIGTA, the IRS has been wasting millions of dollars on BlackBerrys and aircards (which supply mobile internet access).  In 2011 the IRS spent about $8.5 million on 35,000 aircards and $2.9 million on 4,400 BlackBerrys.

The audit found that some of these devices were left completely unused for months.  It’s kind of inconvenient to have to carry around two phones all the time; I get that.  I imagine IRS employees discarding their BlackBerrys for their own phones (probably much cooler iPhones) because they are not allowed to use their government issue phone for anything other than business purposes.

The audit also revealed that some smart phones and aircards were given without obtaining proper permission/approval.  Besides managers and field officers, I just don’t see that there are too many IRS employees who would need these devices.  I can understand why a revenue officer may need mobile internet access and a smart phone.  For example, they do need to see when they’re getting a call about a wage garnishment, even if they’re on the road (and even if they’re not going to actually answer).  But most IRS employees are bean counters and the job of a bean counter is fairly sedentary.