NTA Nina Olson receives 2017 American Bar Association Section of Taxation Distinguished Service Award

May 15, 2017

On May 13, 2017, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson was honored by the American Bar Association Section of Taxation with the 2017 Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding service to the tax profession, the federal government, and the Section of Taxation. This award honors “individuals with distinguished careers in tax law and who have provided an aspirational standard for all tax lawyers to emulate.”  

Nina has been a pioneer in the field of taxation for more than two decades. She began her tax career by opening a tax planning and preparation firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1975.  In 1992, after becoming a lawyer, she established the first low income taxpayer clinic in the country that was not affiliated with a law or business school.  After testifying before House and Senate hearings that led to the enactment of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, Nina was appointed to serve as the National Taxpayer Advocate in January 2001.

Under Nina’s leadership, TAS has assisted hundreds of thousands of taxpayers every year in resolving their account problems with the IRS.  Nina has also worked tirelessly to fix systemic problems that affect groups of taxpayers.

Nina Olson’s Annual Reports to Congress have resulted in numerous changes across the IRS, including the IRS’s implementation of hundreds of recommendations she has made for administrative change. Members of Congress have introduced bills to implement dozens of her recommendations for legislative change, with 15 of them enacted into law. One of the NTA’s major accomplishments was her push for a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the provisions of which the IRS adopted in 2014 and Congress codified in 2015. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights groups the many taxpayer rights dispersed throughout the Internal Revenue Code into ten clear categories.

In presenting the award, the ABA Section of Taxation highlighted Nina’s global presence in the tax community, including her inaugural International Conference on Taxpayer Rights that brought together more than 170 government officials, scholars and practitioners from more than 20 countries to examine global taxpayer rights and explore how taxpayer rights globally serve as the foundation for effective tax administration. Most recently, Nina convened the 2nd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, which was held on March 13-14, 2017, in Vienna with more than 40 countries represented.      

Nina’s passion for advocacy and insights in tax law have been held in the highest regard,  as summarized by former IRS District Counsel Keith Fogg, who currently directs of the Federal Tax Clinic at Harvard Law School.  “She was relentless. I have seen her represent clients when I was the lawyer representing the IRS. She does not give up in the face of significant odds because many of her clients had very little information to give her to support their position. I have seen her pursue and procure legislation because she was unhappy with a position I took in a case we were litigating. As a result of that case, she testified in Congress that the IRS approach was wrong, and Congress changed the statute.”

The Section of Taxation recognized Nina as a “’Woman for All Seasons’– serving effectively, and always striving for more, for the benefit of taxpayers, the IRS, and the country she serves so well.”