Another way the IRS is staying in touch with taxpayers is through its Office of Taxpayer Advocate. The office, which replaced the Office of Taxpayer Ombudsman, is charged with protecting taxpayers' interests in disputes with the IRS. In fiscal year 1997, the advocacy office helped more than 237,000 taxpayers solve their tax complaints, according to the IRS.
Some complaints involve collection situations, says Michelman. "If the agent is asking the taxpayer to pay more than he or she can afford and it's not possible to arrive at a solution, the taxpayer advocate will attempt to work out a more equitable payment arrangement or [make] an offer of compromise," he explains. Under the law, the advocate's rulings can only be overturned by the IRS commissioner or deputy commissioner.
In addition to helping resolve disputes, the advocacy office is charged with providing an independent report to Congress each year identifying the most significant problems facing taxpayers and ways to address those problems.
To further assist taxpayers, the agency is also increasing the National Office of Problem Resolution's staff size by one-third and is conducting a workload review to determine what additional resources are needed in field offices.