Taxpayer Advocate. Seriously?

In today’s Accounting Today, there is an article that illuminates the current problems with the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office. Apparently due to budget issues (continued thanks to Lois Lerner, the gift that keeps on giving, or vice versa, as the case may be), a planned automated system designed to improve the workings of the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office will be “put on hold.”

This is disheartening news. I say this because I believe the Taxpayer Advocates office is beyond repair. In my opinion, and from my experience, it is a total failure.

Back in the late 1990’s, we used the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office on a couple of occasions, and we were impressed with its function. I recall one issue with a client, and together we worked with the Advocate’s Office in Hartford, Connecticut, and it was a textbook case of working together, patience, and eventually full compliance.

Now? It appears to be either the luck of the draw, or the mood of the person or office that is handling the request. On two recent occasions, both of our requests were “rejected” because they were collection matters. Hmph. Well, here is what the Taxpayer Advocate’s website says:

TAS can help if you can’t resolve your problem with the IRS and:
• Your problem is causing financial difficulties for you, your family, or your business.
• You face (or your business is facing) an immediate threat of adverse action.
• You have tried repeatedly to contact the IRS but no one has responded, or the IRS has not responded by the date promised.

Well, the above certainly seems to include collection matters. In fact, the first two bullets appear to address nothing but collection matters.

Back in June, we wrote a letter to Nina Olsen, the National Taxpayer Advocate, sharing my thoughts with her on the current state of the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office. Suffice it to say, we don’t think she will be responding, lest she would have by now. However, we don’t blame her, because it would have been a boilerplate “Thank you for your correspondence. We appreciate your feedback and can promise that we are doing all we can to keep the Taxpayer’s Advocate’s Office as productive and user friendly as possible.” And we would have attached the letter for all to see. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have answered us either.

For what it’s worth, we believe this is another area in tax law where the United States taxpayer and practitioners alike, are on their own. We are seeing that in a few areas of the IRS. But for all practical purposes, we do not have an efficient Taxpayer Advocate Service in Washington, or anywhere else for that matter. All the more reason to need competent tax practitioners – we are the last line of defense.

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