NTA Blog: Tax Administration on the Twentieth Anniversary of RRA 98

July 26, 2018

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Twenty years ago this week, the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 was enacted. This landmark legislation created significant taxpayer rights – including the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate and Local Taxpayer Advocate offices, Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (more on that in next week’s blog); Collection Due Process hearings (the first time taxpayers had meaningful access to courts to challenge the appropriateness of IRS lien and levy actions), “innocent spouse” relief expansion to provide for separate liability and equitable relief; expansion of offer in compromise relief on grounds of economic hardship, equity, and public policy; protection against lifestyle and repetitive audits. Some provisions are only now being clarified, as in the Graev and Chai line of cases. Other provisions still have not been properly implemented, such as the requirement that a specific employee’s name, phone number, and unique identifying number be placed on manually-generated correspondence. Nevertheless, RRA 98 changed tax administration as we know it, and, in my opinion, moved the United States in the forefront of taxpayer protections.

The world has not been static since RRA 98 enactment. New forms of tax fraud and tax avoidance have arisen and become more sophisticated, especially in the areas of identity theft and refund fraud. At the same time, new technologies and data mining techniques have come on to the scene to address these challenges. Most importantly, Congress has enacted the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a major advance in taxpayer protections and effective tax administration. But the work of bringing the IRS and taxpayer rights into the 21st century has only begun, and toward that end, on April, 18, 2018, the House of Representatives passed the “Taxpayer First Act” on a vote of 414-0. Just last week Chairman Hatch and Ranking Member Wyden of the Senate Finance Committee introduced their version of the “Taxpayer First Act.” And on July 26, 2018 Senators Portman and Cardin introduced a bipartisan bill, the “Protecting Taxpayers Act.” Each of these bills include provisions that my office recommended in our Annual Reports to Congress. And all of these bills should be seriously studied by persons with interest in effective tax administration.

On Thursday, July 26th, the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight of the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on “Improving Tax Administration Today,” at which I was honored to appear and testify. You can find my written testimony here. I encourage everyone who cares about improving tax administration to watch the hearing and read the testimony submitted. I also encourage folks to become involved in this process. What made RRA 98 a landmark piece of legislation was the participation and involvement of many different voices and perspectives.

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.