For many years I have reported on the state of service at IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs), formerly known colloquially as walk-in sites. In my previous blog, I described my concerns about the IRS appointment system and the message the signs on the doors of TACs send to taxpayers.
I recently learned, that despite my concerns, and concerns from Congress, the IRS has closed nine additional TACs since publication of my 2017 Annual Report to Congress. In December, I reported that the IRS operated 371 TACs. Today the IRS operates only 362 TACs, a reduction of over two percent since my report.
In March, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. In conjunction with that Act, the Senate Committee on Appropriations specifically directed the IRS to produce a report and a study relating to TACs as well as a study relating to improving service to targeted populations.
First, the Committee expressed agreement with the concerns I have expressed and generally directed the IRS to report on steps being taken to prevent TAC closures as follows:
The Committee agrees with the National Taxpayer Advocate that the elimination of a regular walk-in option for taxpayers raises significant concerns about access to IRS services. The Committee directs the IRS to report to the Committee within 120 days of enactment of this Act the steps being taken to prevent any closures of TAC locations, and the status of any proposed alternatives to fully staffed TACs (such as virtual customer service sites).
Second, the Committee tasked the IRS with conducting a study in the impact of TAC closures:
The Committee directs the IRS to conduct a study on the impact of closing a Taxpayer Assistance Center and the adverse effects it has on taxpayers’ ability to interact with the IRS. Should the IRS choose to close a TAC location, the Committee directs the IRS to hold a public forum in the impacted community at least 6 months prior to the planned closure and notify the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and House of Representatives.
Finally, the Committee directed the IRS to submit a strategic plan to improve all taxpayer services for certain populations:
The Committee directs the IRS within 120 days of the enactment of this Act to submit to the Committee a strategic plan to improve all taxpayer services for rural, elderly, minority, disabled and low-income populations including an outline of its plans for soliciting and incorporating public input into its ‘‘Future State’’ planning.
The Committee notes that the IRS has not sought congressional or public comment on its plans or offered any alternatives to meet the needs of rural taxpayers. To rectify this situation, the Committee directed the IRS to report to the Committee within 120 days of enactment of the fiscal year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 115-141) the steps being taken to prevent any closures or effective closures of TAC locations, and the status of any proposed alternatives to fully staffed TACs (such as virtual customer service sites). Additionally, the Committee directed the IRS to study the impact of closing a TAC and the adverse effects it has on taxpayers and their interaction with the IRS. The Committee awaits and looks forward to receiving these reports from the IRS within the deadline set forth in Public Law 115-141.
It is clear the issue of TAC closures and declining services to taxpayers is of grave concern to the Committee, as it is to me. I am astonished that the IRS has continued to close TACs in the face of this direction from the Senate Committee on Appropriations before even submitting the requested reports. I have long expressed my concerns about the impact of closing TACs, specifically on rural taxpayers who may not have another face-to-face option nearby to interact with the IRS. I eagerly await the release of the required reports so I (as well as the appropriations committees and other interested stakeholders) can review the findings of the IRS. To date, my office has not been consulted by the IRS regarding these reports.
The report from the Committee on Appropriations further echoes concerns I have raised in many forums. The Committee noted that closing TACs in rural areas may leave taxpayers with no choice but to seek paid assistance and raises the issue of the IRS failing to seek either congressional or public comment on plans to close TACs. I share this concern, and it was also raised in several of the National Taxpayer Advocate Public Forums on Taxpayer Needs and Preferences that I conducted throughout the country in 2016. For example, Robin McKinney, Director and Co-Founder of the Maryland CASH Campaign, stated at the Baltimore Public Forum:
And again, because people need back tax help, they need to get copies of their transcripts. In looking at the different ways that the IRS is considering how to get transcripts, I think if you’re there on a Tuesday online, the moon is waxing and, you know, there’s like a gerbil in the room, you qualify. I think it’s like a very narrow set of people that are going to be able to use that. And again, for the folks that we have, the more hoops that you put through, it makes it more complicated. And if you already have a busy life and you’re trying to figure out something stressful, putting more hoops in front of folks, they’re just not going to do it. They’re not going to move forward. And then they’re actually going to end up in even more of a tax compliance situation.
I hope that as the IRS moves forward with any further changes to TACs – whether that includes closures, staffing changes, or service changes, that it includes TAS and congressional concerns at the forefront of the decision-making progress.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the National Taxpayer Advocate. The National Taxpayer Advocate is appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury and reports to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. However, the National Taxpayer Advocate presents an independent taxpayer perspective that does not necessarily reflect the position of the IRS, the Treasury Department, or the Office of Management and Budget.
Your comments are most welcome by Nina Olson and NTA Team.
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