For the past several months, the IRS has been tirelessly working to make itself more taxpayer-responsive. Now we're starting to see the results of those efforts.
Following recent Senate Finance Committee hearings on the IRS and taxpayer abuses (see "Tax Talk," January), an internal audit was launched in one district office concerning the IRS' revenue collection procedures. The findings, presented to the Senate panel in December, point out that IRS managers' excessive focus on collecting money from taxpayers led workers in the Arkansas-Oklahoma district office to violate IRS procedures in seizing taxpayers' houses and other assets.
When he released the findings, new IRS commissioner Charles O. Rossotti noted that he was "concerned about the number of questionable procedural violations that may have occurred in the cases that were reviewed. I am especially troubled about the emphasis placed on improving collection statistics without an equal emphasis on customer service and the safeguarding of taxpayer rights."
In response to the findings, Rossotti announced several steps the IRS would take to tighten procedures and require additional high-level review before IRS agents seize homes. For example, if a taxpayer is told that his or her property is going to be seized, and the taxpayer informs a revenue officer that such an action will cause hardship, the officer is required to refer the case to the local Taxpayer Advocate for possible relief.
The agency is also revising Publication 594, "Understanding the Collection Process," so it's more useful to taxpayers who must deal with IRS collection personnel. The IRS includes the publication in all notices concerning IRS plans to seize a taxpayer's property or other assets.
The revised publication will include a detachable Form 911, "Application for Taxpayer Assistance Order." This form allows taxpayers to request relief from the Taxpayer Advocate if a levy will cause a hardship. Providing taxpayers with this form will ensure that they are able to exercise their rights to request Taxpayer Advocate assistance, the IRS maintains.
Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin also registered his concern about the audit's results, saying Rossotti's steps to tighten procedures "are an appropriate first response to the findings."
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