The National Taxpayer Advocate Provided Appropriate Training on the Associate Advocates’ Role and Responsibilities

September 2001

Reference Number: 2001-10-170

 

This report has cleared the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration disclosure review process and information determined to be restricted from public release has been redacted from this document.

September 24, 2001

MEMORANDUM FOR NATIONAL TAXPAYER ADVOCATE

FROM: Pamela J. Gardiner /s/ Pamela J. Gardiner

Deputy Inspector General for Audit

SUBJECT: Final Audit Report - The National Taxpayer Advocate Provided Appropriate Training on the Associate Advocates’ Role And Responsibilities

This report presents the results of our review of the National Taxpayer Advocate’s (NTA) efforts to train the Associate Advocates on their role and responsibilities. The objective of this review was to determine whether the office of the NTA developed and delivered training and materials to assist Associate Advocates to successfully acclimate to their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Office of the NTA assists taxpayers in resolving problems that have not been resolved through normal channels or who are suffering significant hardships. In Fiscal Year 2000, the NTA reported that Associate Advocates independently reviewed and took action to resolve over 256,000 cases.

In summary, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) developed and delivered training and materials to Associate Advocates to help ensure they understand their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates in the IRS. The TAS also developed and provided to Associate Advocates resource materials that reinforce what it means to be taxpayer advocates.

The TAS developed a one-week orientation course that defined the advocates’ role and responsibilities. The course was provided to 96 percent (1,247 of the 1,298) of the Associate Advocates between August 1999 and January 2001. Over 94 percent of the 34 Associate Advocates and managers the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration interviewed believed that the training helped them be aware of their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates. When asked, all 34 employees clearly outlined their role and responsibilities.

The TAS also provided its Associate Advocates with supplemental reference materials and sources to reinforce their role and responsibilities. These included the TAS internal manual, position descriptions and employee critical job elements, the TAS Intranet, email and voice message systems, meetings, and memoranda.

Management’s Response: The NTA agreed with the results and conclusions presented in this report. Management’s complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix IV.

Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or John R. Wright, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Headquarters Operations and Exempt Organizations Programs), at (202) 927-7077.

Table of Contents

Background

The Taxpayer Advocate Service Developed and Delivered Training to Its Associate Advocates on Their Role and Responsibilities

The Taxpayer Advocate Service Provided Additional Reference Materials and Sources to Reinforce the Advocates’ Role and Responsibilities

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV – Management’s Response to the Draft Report

Background

The office of the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) assists taxpayers in resolving problems that have not been resolved through normal channels or who are suffering significant hardships. In the Fiscal Year 2000 Annual Report to the Congress, the NTA reported that Associate Advocates independently reviewed and took action to resolve over 256,000 cases.

As a result of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98), the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) became an independent function of the IRS. The reorganized TAS consists of 9 Area Taxpayer Advocates (ATAs) who report to the NTA and oversee the casework of 74 Local Taxpayer Advocates (LTAs). The LTAs manage the local TAS offices and report to the ATA over their area. Associate Advocates in the local offices are responsible for helping taxpayers resolve problems by taking an objective look at their problems and working with IRS Operations to ensure a fair outcome.

The RRA 98 also expanded the definition of a significant hardship. The LTAs and the NTA can issue a Taxpayer Assistance Order after determining that a taxpayer is suffering or about to suffer a significant hardship as a result of the manner in which the internal revenue laws are being applied. A Taxpayer Assistance Order may require the IRS to release taxpayers’ property or to take an action permitted by law. It may also stop the IRS from taking an action.

The new independent organization with its expanded hardship criteria faced the challenge of ensuring that Associate Advocates received sufficient training and materials to effectively represent the individual taxpayer’s interests. The NTA undertook a major training initiative with the goal of ensuring all advocates received training to acclimate to the new TAS organization.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) performed this audit work between March 2001 and July 2001 in the TAS headquarters office, and the Atlanta, Dallas, and Richmond Area and Local TAS offices. This audit was performed in accordance with Government Auditing Standards. Detailed information of our audit objective, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I. Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service Developed and Delivered Training to Its Associate Advocates on Their Role and Responsibilities

The TAS developed appropriate training for its Associate Advocates, providing instruction and course materials that emphasized the independent role of a taxpayer advocate with responsibilities for resolving taxpayer problems. The training and course materials stressed the importance of speaking on behalf of the taxpayer, educating taxpayers about their rights and responsibilities, and protecting taxpayer rights and reducing taxpayer burden whenever possible.

The Deputy National Taxpayer Advocate advised us that statutory and delegated requirements and expectations of the Associate Advocates had changed. Associate Advocates are now expected to look at all the taxpayer’s problems and issues from the taxpayer’s point of view and in line with the existing statutory and delegated requirements.

In response to these changes, the TAS timely delivered a one-week training course to the advocate workforce outlining the role and responsibilities of a taxpayer advocate. The course also outlined various work processes needed to resolve multiple tax issues within the various IRS functions and units. This course was provided between August 1999 and January 2001 to 96 percent (1,247 of 1,298) of the Associate Advocates.

Over 94 percent of the 34 Associate Advocates and managers the TIGTA judgmentally selected and interviewed believed that the training helped them be aware of their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates. When asked, all 34 employees clearly outlined their role and responsibilities. For example, some of the Associate Advocates’ comments included that a taxpayer advocate should:

The Taxpayer Advocate Service Provided Additional Reference Materials and Sources to Reinforce the Advocates’ Role and Responsibilities

To supplement the formal training, the TAS provided its Associate Advocates with additional reference materials and sources to reinforce the Associate Advocates’ role and responsibilities. These included the TAS internal manual, position descriptions and employee critical job elements, the TAS Intranet, email and voice message systems, meetings, and memoranda. Additionally, one of the offices visited recently began publishing a local TAS employee newsletter.

The TAS’ new internal manual includes the new organizational structure, and emphasizes the organization’s new independence. In addition, the manual stressed that the Associate Advocates should keep the taxpayers’ best interests in mind when considering possible actions or recommendations. The TAS also ensured that the newly developed position description and employee critical job elements for the Associate Advocates clearly defined their role and responsibilities.

The TAS also established a question and answer page on its Intranet where advocates can obtain answers to questions on a variety of topics, including what it means to be a taxpayer advocate. Many Associate Advocates interviewed stated that they participate in group meetings, and also receive emails, voice messages, and memoranda addressing their role as advocates and their responsibilities to the taxpayer. In addition, the Richmond Area Advocate’s office began publishing an area-wide employee newsletter in December 2000. The first two issues contained informative articles discussing what it means to be a taxpayer advocate.

In summary, the NTA and the TAS have developed and provided training and course materials to help ensure Associate Advocates are aware of their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates in the IRS. In addition, the TAS provided the Associate Advocates access to materials and sources that emphasize the independent role of a taxpayer advocate with responsibilities for resolving taxpayer problems.

Appendix I

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

The objective of this audit was to determine whether the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate developed and delivered training and materials to assist Associate Advocates to successfully acclimate to their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We performed the following steps:

  1. Determined how the role and responsibilities of the Associate Advocates in the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) changed since the implementation of The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98), and the new IRS and the TAS organizational structure.
    1. Reviewed the law, related regulations, directives, and other information relevant to the TAS’ new mission, goals, and objectives.
    2. Interviewed appropriate TAS executives and managers to determine how they interpreted the law, saw the Associate Advocate’s role and responsibilities change, and communicated that change to the Associate Advocates.
    3. Determined how the TAS addressed questions posed by the Associate Advocates about their role and responsibilities and interpretations of the law.
  2. Determined whether the TAS developed training to prepare Associate Advocates for their new role and responsibilities in the IRS organization. We interviewed TAS headquarters executives to determine how training needs were identified and delivered, and obtained and reviewed the course materials developed to train the Associate Advocates.
  3. Determined whether Associate Advocates received the planned training.
    1. Determined how national training efforts are controlled and tracked and whether the TAS uses the IRS national database, Administrative Corporate Education System.
    2. Determined what training courses included the Associate Advocates’ new role and responsibilities, the new TAS organization, and case criteria.
    3. Evaluated the sufficiency of the training and training materials to effectively acclimate the Associate Advocates to their role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates in the IRS organization.
    4. Obtained a current list of all TAS Associate Advocates and a list of the training these employees had received. Compared the two lists to identify all employees who had not received training on their role and responsibilities. Followed up with management on any significant training gaps identified.
    5. Interviewed a judgmental sample of Associate Advocates in the Taxpayer Advocate Local Offices in Atlanta, GA, Dallas, TX, and Richmond, VA, to determine if they actually received the training and training materials. We selected these sites because both the Area and Local Taxpayer Advocates were co-located. At each office we randomly selected a judgmental sample of Associate Advocates to interview using the list of employees provided by the TAS. We did not need to project and, therefore, did not do a statistically valid sample.
  4. Determined what materials and resources (other than training) the TAS provided to Associate Advocates on their new role and responsibilities as taxpayer advocates.
    1. Interviewed the appropriate TAS officials to determine what materials were provided and how they provided the materials and resources to Associate Advocates.
    2. Obtained copies of and evaluated the materials provided to Associate Advocates by the NTA or local offices to determine whether they adequately incorporated the new role and responsibilities, including the organizational changes and the case criteria.
    3. Interviewed a judgmental sample of Associate Advocates in the Taxpayer Advocate Local Offices in Atlanta, GA, Dallas, TX, and Richmond, VA, to determine if they actually received the materials. See step III.E. for selection methodology.

Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report

Maurice S. Moody, Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Headquarters Operations and Exempt Organizations Programs)

Mary V. Baker, Director

Augusta R. Cook, Audit Manager

Paul Mitchell, Senior Auditor

Sharon Shepherd, Senior Auditor

Charlene Elliston, Auditor

Tracy Harper, Auditor

David Lowe, Auditor

Lynn Ross, Auditor

Appendix III

Report Distribution List

Commissioner N:C

Chief Counsel CC

Director, Taxpayer Account Operations TA:TAO

Director, Taxpayer Advocate Service Strategic Human Resources TA:HR

Director, Legislative Affairs CL:LA

Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis N:ADC:R:O

Office of Management Controls N:CFO:F:M

Audit Liaison: National Taxpayer Advocate TA

Appendix IV

Management’s Response to the Draft Report

The response was removed due to its size. To see the response, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public web Page.