This week marks a major milestone for the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS). On March 12, TAS celebrated its 20th anniversary. Although the IRS previously had procedures in place to assist taxpayers with unresolved tax problems, the creation of TAS provided a direct line of communication between taxpayers and the National Taxpayer Advocate, who reports directly to the IRS commissioner and to Congress.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service was created by Congress as part of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98). The two main statutory missions defined for TAS were: (i) to assist taxpayers in resolving problems with the IRS and (ii) to identify areas in which groups of taxpayers are experiencing problems in their dealings with the IRS and make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate the problems.
Over the past 20 years, TAS has served more than 4.5 million taxpayers by assisting them with their IRS problems and protecting their rights. TAS receives many calls, letters, and emails from taxpayers commenting on their experiences working with TAS and its employees. Phrases like “knew my case,” “understood my concerns,” “kept her promises,” “was professional, diligent, and patient,” and “finally able to calm my nerves” are comments taxpayers have shared with us. Although not every interaction is perfect, we try to go the extra mile to fulfill our mission. Making a difference in the lives of taxpayers and ensuring their rights are protected are foundational to all TAS has done and continues to do today.
In support of our second statutory mission, TAS has investigated thousands of systemic problems identified from our casework and submitted to us by the public through our Systemic Advocacy Management System (SAMS) website. To resolve systemic taxpayer problems, we have made hundreds of administrative recommendations adopted by the IRS and approximately 46 legislative recommendations enacted into law by Congress. TAS makes its administrative and legislative recommendations in the National Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report to Congress, which is published and submitted to Congress each year in early January. The Advocate has submitted the Annual Report to Congress for the past 20 years. In 2017, the National Taxpayer Advocate added a separate volume, the “Purple Book.” This volume presents all of the NTA’s legislative recommendations in a concise, user-friendly format.
One notable accomplishment was the IRS’s adoption and Congress’s later enactment of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights for which TAS had long advocated. Another notable accomplishment was the passage of the Taxpayer First Act in 2019, which contained 23 TAS legislative recommendations.
Also of note: TAS has offices located in every state and continues to expand its presence in local communities. Local Taxpayer Advocates and Case Advocates have assisted thousands of taxpayers at Problem Solving Day events hosted across the country. In 2019, TAS released a Taxpayer Roadmap outlining how complex the U.S. tax system is to navigate, something that had never been done before. And in its 20th year, TAS is launching its first ever Mobile Outreach Van to take TAS further into the taxpayer communities of the United States.
In addition to its case advocacy and systemic advocacy work, TAS provides oversight and support for two important tax administration programs – the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) grants program and the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP). Each program provides a unique service to taxpayers and to tax administration. In its own 20th year (grant year 2019), the LITC Program Office awarded over $11.7 million in grants to 131 organizations in 46 states and the District of Columbia to represent low-income taxpayers and perform education and outreach to individuals who speak English as a second language. For its part, the TAP is an independent panel of citizens that listens to taxpayers, identifies taxpayer concerns, and makes suggestions directly to the IRS to improve customer service and satisfaction. TAP members provide a taxpayer perspective on critical tax administration programs and help identify grassroots issues through their outreach.
From time to time, unexpected events like natural disasters or economic upheavals present special challenges for taxpayers, and it is TAS’s job to provide needed assistance. As I write this blog, taxpayers, tax professionals, and the IRS itself are grappling with challenges presented by the coronavirus. We are actively participating in IRS planning discussions and will be providing guidance to our employees to assist taxpayers experiencing problems as a result of this coronavirus while ensuring that the health and well-being of taxpayers and our employees are protected.
Since Congress enacted RRA 98, TAS has been fortunate to have two well regarded leaders at the helm. Val Oveson, the first National Taxpayer Advocate, served from 1998-2000. Nina Olson, the second National Taxpayer Advocate, took over in 2001 and built TAS into the organization it is today before retiring in July 2019. For me, it has been a privilege and an honor to serve as the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate over the past eight months, and I look forward in the coming week to welcoming Erin M. Collins, who has been appointed to serve as the third National Taxpayer Advocate.
I will leave it to Erin to determine her specific priorities for TAS. But I think it’s fair to say that TAS’s primary mission will remain what it has always been – to advocate for each and every taxpayer, protect taxpayers’ rights, and be the taxpayers’ Voice at the IRS.
Stay safe and healthy!
Bridget T. Roberts