National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson convened the inaugural International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Washington, D.C. on November 18 and 19. More than 170 government officials, scholars, and practitioners from 22 countries attended the two-day event. Panels discussed the many ways taxpayer rights function as the foundation for effective tax administration.
Day One: A focus on cultivating taxpayer trust with transparency and a system that properly informs the taxpayer
The first panel examined the need for a universal taxpayer bill of rights in tax administration that assures taxpayers will receive fair treatment. Panelists Duncan Bentley from the University of Melbourne,; Joseph Thorndike from Northwestern University; Giovanna Tieghi from the University of Padova, Italy; and moderator Christopher Rizek of Caplin & Drysdale also covered the history of domestic and international tax compliance.
Panelists and audience at the McGowan Theater at the National Archives
The second panel explored the role of transparency in promoting voluntary compliance trust in the tax administrator and system. Panelists Allison Christians from McGill University, Canada; U.S. tax analyst Robert Goulder; Lynne Oats from the University of Exeter, UK; and moderator David Brunori, a U.S. tax analyst discussed the importance of the taxpayer’s right to be informed via clear, accessible explanations of their country's tax laws and procedures, and their fundamental right to know how to comply with these laws.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen then addressed the conference regarding the IRS’s adoption of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and described how the IRS was promoting those rights internally and externally.
Philip Baker of Field Court Tax Chambers, UK; Graeme Cooper from the University of Sydney; Joakim Nergelius from the Örebro University, Sweden; and moderator Carol A. Dunahoo of Baker & McKenzie began the afternoon sessions by addressing the need to balance taxpayer privacy and confidentiality in today's world with transparency and information sharing.
From left: Graeme Cooper, Carol Dunahoo, Nina Olson
The day concluded with Judge Tamara W. Ashford of the United States Tax Court, Associate Chief Justice Lucie Lamarre of the Tax Court of Canada, Javier Laynez Potisek of the Tax and Administrative Court of Mexico, and moderator Peter J. Panuthos, Chief Special Trial Judge of the United States Tax Court, discussing the role of the judiciary in protecting taxpayer rights and promoting voluntary compliance.
Day Two: A focus on protecting taxpayer rights and promoting voluntary compliance
In the first panel, Alice G. Abreu from Temple University, Les Book from Villanova University, Keith Fogg from Harvard University, and Scott Schumacher from the University of Washington addressed taxpayer protections during tax assessment and collection. Nina Olson moderated the discussion and stated that, "In individual cases, the advocate ensures the agency listens to taxpayers and takes into account the taxpayer’s specific facts and circumstances. The advocate also ensures that agency procedures are fair and just – that they comport with concepts of procedural justice.”
Keynote speaker Erich Kirchler from the University of Vienna explored the impact of power and trust on compliance behavior and the taxpayer's perception of the tax administration's trustworthiness.
Steve Vesperman of the Australian Tax Office, Lennart Wittberg of the Swedish Tax Agency, and moderator Tom Beers of the Taxpayer Advocate Service wrapped up the morning panels with an examination of the role taxpayer service plays in taxpayer trust and compliance and how to measure the related impact.
The afternoon began with Nina Olson, Diana Bernal Ladrón de Guevara of Procuradora de la Defensa del Contribuyente, Mexico, Ali Noroozi, Inspector General for Taxation, Australia, and moderator John Hasseldine from the University of New Hampshire discussing the balance that taxpayer advocates and ombuds must strike between maintaining credibility with taxpayers while also serving the relationships they have with tax administrators.
"Independence is the essential element for a taxpayer advocate to have credibility with the taxpayer." – Nina E. Olson
Right to left: Amanda Bartmann, Jay K. Rosengard, Hanyana Eric Mkhawane, Tonia Pediaditaki
The final panel of the day explored the challenges in operationalizing taxpayer rights into tax administration. Panelists Amanda Bartmann of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, Hanyana Eric Mkhawane of the Office of the Tax Ombud, South Africa, Tonia Pediaditaki of the Panteion University of Political and Social Sciences, Greece, and moderator Jay K. Rosengard from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government considered the challenges in integrating the principles of taxpayer rights into the culture, policies, and procedures of tax agencies. Pediaditaki also reviewed the use of tax amnesty as a tool for taxpayer compliance in the Greek tax system.
The conference provided a forum for sharing ideas from across the globe regarding how to protect and strengthen taxpayer rights and promote voluntary compliance. The robust dialogue over two days allowed for a better understanding of how taxpayer rights provide a framework for effective tax administration and how to advance these rights within a tax system.