National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson gave her mid-year report to Congress on July 7, 2016, reviewing the 2016 filing season and identifying priority issues she hopes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will address.
Olson's main concern is how technology-driven the IRS' "Future State" plan has become. She again commented that technology solutions and online accounts will leave many taxpayers unable to conduct business with the IRS easily due to personal security concerns, lack of computer skills or internet access, or difficulty completing the IRS' authentication process.
"I continue to be concerned that the IRS's design for the Future State ignores or dismisses the significant body of data that shows large portions of the taxpaying public is either unable or unwilling to engage with government online services for anything other than the most routine tasks, if those," Olson wrote.
The Taxpayer Advocate praised the IRS' improvements in the current season's telephone services, doubling the percentage of calls it answered and cutting wait times by more than half. She notes that the IRS offers only limited assistance by phone and in person regarding tax law.
Another major concern is the IRS' plan to eliminate walk-in sites and to require taxpayers to schedule appointments in advance with their Taxpayer Assistance Center. One-quarter of taxpayers in a pilot test for the appointment-only model had to wait 13 days or more just to get an appointment, with some waiting more than 41 days.
U.S. taxpayers living abroad have even more limited service options, even though approximately 9 million U.S. citizens live abroad currently. Olson said, "The National Taxpayer Advocate is concerned the IRS is providing fewer options for international taxpayers even as the population of U.S. citizens abroad grows, and these taxpayers are facing greater challenges in voluntarily meeting their tax obligations, partly as a result of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) reporting rules, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA)."
The Taxpayer Advocate identified the following priorities for the IRS to address in fiscal year 2017:
- Improving the accuracy of the data-matching used to process FATCA and other international withholding provisions;
- Implementing the private debt collection program responsibly;
- Defining specific conduct that is sufficiently "flagrant" for purposes of levying retirement accounts to collect tax debt;
- Improving the security of online taxpayer account services while maintaining adequate offline options; and
- Providing better assistance to victims of identity theft.
To read the detailed IRS summary on Olson's report, click here.
To read the original Taxpayer Advocate report, click here.