Preface: Introductory Remarks by the National Taxpayer Advocate

The year 2015 has been a memorable one for taxpayer rights.

On November 19 through 21, over 160 people from 22 countries gathered at the National Archives and the Internal Revenue Service to participate in the Inaugural International Conference on Taxpayer Rights […] On the evening of the first day of the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, I stood in the Rotunda of the National Archives and viewed the documents on which the United States is founded — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I was struck by James Madison’s language quoted in a display about our nation’s path to adopting a Bill of Rights:

I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow citizens in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the government.

It is fitting that, less than one month after I read this statement at the historic conference, Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation that codified the provisions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR), an act I have been advocating for since 2007. The need for and protections afforded by the TBOR cannot be overstated. In today’s environment of low confidence and even distrust of the federal government and the IRS, the agency’s adherence to the principles of the TBOR will demonstrate to taxpayers that they have reason to trust that it will administer the nation’s tax laws fairly and justly.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is the roadmap to effective tax administration. Congress has set the IRS on this path by codifying the TBOR. It is now up to the IRS to more fully incorporate taxpayer rights into everything it does. However, I have significant concerns that the IRS is embarking on a path that will unintentionally undermine taxpayer rights rather than enhance them, thereby eroding taxpayer trust further.

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In response, in part, to significant budget cuts since 2010, the IRS has undertaken a multi-year exercise to develop a concept of operations (CONOPS) or “future state vision.” This exercise is long overdue and I commend the IRS for undertaking it. Not surprisingly, the IRS future state now under internal discussion proposes changes in agency operations that assume a constrained funding environment and therefore minimizes agency costs. As a result, these proposed changes have serious ramifications for taxpayers and taxpayer rights. Most significantly, the IRS future state vision redefines tax administration into a class system, where only taxpayers who are the most noncompliant or who can “pay to play” will receive concierge-level service or personal attention. The compliant or trying-to-comply taxpayers will be left either struggling for themselves or paying for assistance they formerly received for free from the IRS.

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