Taxpayer Rights Are Being Protected When Levies Are Issued

 

June 2005

 

Reference Number:  2005-30-072

 

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.

 

June 1, 2005

 

 

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, SMALL BUSINESS/SELF-EMPLOYED DIVISION

 

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

                 Deputy Inspector General for Audit

 

SUBJECT:     Final Audit Report - Taxpayer Rights Are Being Protected When Levies Are Issued (Audit # 200430029)

 

This report presents the results of our review to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has complied with 26 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section (§) 6330, Notice and Opportunity for Hearing Before Levy.  The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98) requires the IRS to notify taxpayers at least 30 days before initiating any levy action to give taxpayers an opportunity to formally appeal the proposed levy.  Specifically, we determined whether the IRS has sufficient controls in place to ensure that taxpayers are advised of their right to a hearing at least 30 days prior to levy action.  This is the seventh annual report the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has issued in compliance with the RRA 98 to determine whether the IRS is complying with legal guidelines over the issuance of levies. 

Prior TIGTA reports have recognized that the IRS has implemented tighter controls over the issuance of levies.  This was due primarily to the development of systemic controls in both the Automated Collection System (ACS) and the Integrated Collection System (ICS) to prevent a levy from being generated unless there were at least 30 days between the date taxpayers received notice of their appeal rights and the date of the proposed levy.  Our testing of these controls indicated that they continue to function effectively.

Prior years’ reports also addressed the issue of revenue officers not always properly notifying taxpayers of their appeal rights when issuing manual levies to seize taxpayer assets.  In last year’s report, we recommended the IRS reconsider requiring managers to review manual levies prepared by a revenue officer.  The IRS declined to implement this recommendation but did issue an ICS Alert on March 5, 2004, reminding employees to ensure taxpayer rights are protected whenever a manual levy is issued.  Our review of 32 ICS and 29 ACS manual levies issued between July 1 and September 30, 2004, showed the IRS properly informed taxpayers of their appeal rights at least 30 days prior to issuing the levies.

We made no recommendations in this report.  However, key IRS management officials reviewed it prior to issuance.  Copies of this report are also being sent to the IRS managers affected by the report findings.  Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or Richard Dagliolo, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Small Business and Corporate Programs), at (631) 654-6028.

 

Table of Contents

Background

Controls Implemented to Protect Taxpayer Rights During the Issuance of Systemic Levies Are Operating Effectively

Revenue Officers Properly Notified Taxpayers of Their Appeal Rights Prior to Issuing Manual Levies

Appendix I – Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

Appendix II – Major Contributors to This Report

Appendix III – Report Distribution List

Appendix IV– Example of Levy (Form 668-B)

 

Background

When taxpayers do not pay delinquent taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the authority to work directly with financial institutions and other third parties to seize taxpayers’ assets.  This action is commonly referred to as a “levy.”  The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98) requires the IRS to notify taxpayers at least 30 days before initiating a levy action to give taxpayers an opportunity to formally appeal the proposed levy.

The RRA 98 also requires the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to annually verify that the IRS is complying with the provisions.  This is the seventh year that the TIGTA has evaluated the controls over levies.

Two operations within the IRS issue levies to collect delinquent taxes:

·         The Automated Collection System (ACS), where Customer Service Representatives (CSR) contact delinquent taxpayers by telephone to collect unpaid taxes and secure tax returns.

·         The Collection Field function (CFf), where revenue officers contact delinquent taxpayers in person as the final step in the collection process.  Field contact becomes necessary when the ACS does not resolve the tax matter.  Delinquent cases that are assigned to revenue officers in the IRS field offices are controlled and monitored with the Integrated Collection System (ICS).

Both operations issue two types of levies:  systemically generated levies and manual levies.  Previous TIGTA reports have recognized that the IRS has significantly improved controls over the issuance of systemically generated levies.  This was due primarily to the development of systemic controls in both the ACS and ICS to prevent a levy from being generated unless there were at least 30 days between the date taxpayers received notice of their appeal rights and the date of the proposed levy.

However, previous reports, including the TIGTA’s April 2004 report, did identify that additional controls were needed over manual levies issued by revenue officers.  In the April 2004 report, we recommended the IRS reconsider requiring managers to review manual levies prepared by a revenue officer.  The IRS declined to implement this recommendation but did issue an ICS Alert on March 5, 2004, reminding employees to ensure taxpayer rights are protected whenever a manual levy is issued.

This review was conducted at the Small Business/Self-Employed Division Headquarters in the Collection and Campus Compliance Services offices in New Carrollton, Maryland.  We conducted the audit from October 2004 through March 2005 in accordance with Government Auditing Standards.

Detailed information on our audit objective, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I.  Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.

Controls Implemented to Protect Taxpayer Rights During the Issuance of Systemic Levies Are Operating Effectively

Our review of systemically generated levies showed that taxpayers’ rights were protected.  The taxpayers were given notice of their appeal rights at least 30 days prior to the issuance of the levies.

ACS controls

The first step in the collection process involves mailing taxpayers a series of notices asking for payment of delinquent taxes.  If taxpayers do not comply, the majority of the accounts are forwarded to an ACS Call Center where CSRs contact taxpayers by telephone to resolve their accounts.  If accounts cannot be resolved, CSRs have the authority to issue levies.  See Appendix IV for an example of a levy form. 

Virtually all levies issued by CSRs are generated through the ACS, which contains a control developed to comply with the RRA 98 that compares the date the taxpayer was notified of the pending levy with the date requested for the actual issuance of the levy.  If there are fewer than 30 days between the dates, the ACS will not generate a levy.  This control is designed to ensure taxpayers have been notified at least 30 days prior to the levy and have been informed of their appeal rights for any systemically generated levy.

We tested the effectiveness of this control by reviewing a random sample of 30 systemically generated levies issued through the ACS between July 1 and September 30, 2004.  We compared the date of the final notification letter to the date of the issuance of the levy.  All 30 taxpayers were timely notified of their appeal rights.  Therefore, the systemic controls in the ACS Call Centers effectively protected taxpayers’ appeal rights.

ICS controls

Many times notices and telephone calls to taxpayers do not successfully resolve delinquent accounts, and cases have to be assigned to revenue officers in CFf offices for face-to-face contact with taxpayers.  Cases assigned to revenue officers are controlled on the ICS.  Revenue officers use the ICS to record collection activity on delinquent cases and generate enforcement actions such as levies. 

The IRS installed a control in the ICS similar to the control in the ACS that prevents a levy from being issued unless taxpayers have received 30 days notice and been informed of their appeal rights.  If fewer than 30 days have elapsed since the final notice date, the system will not generate a levy.

We tested the effectiveness of this control by reviewing a random sample of 30 systemically generated levies issued through the ICS between July 1 and September 30, 2004.  We compared the date of the final notification letter to the date of the issuance of the levy.  All 30 taxpayers had received notification of their appeal rights at least 30 days prior to the levy.  Therefore, the systemic controls over levies issued by revenue officers in CFf offices effectively protected taxpayers’ appeal rights. 

Revenue Officers Properly Notified Taxpayers of Their Appeal Rights Prior to Issuing Manual Levies

The second type of levy that both CSRs and revenue officers can issue is the manual levy.  The manual levy is issued outside the ACS and ICS automated processes and is not subject to systemic controls.

Because manual levies are issued outside the ACS and ICS automated processes, an automated audit trail for these actions is not produced.  Therefore, it is impossible to reliably determine the exact number of manual levies that were issued by either CSRs or revenue officers during our review period.  IRS management did inform us that they believe manual levies are issued infrequently.

Although ACS CSRs primarily issue levies systemically, they may also issue manual levies under certain circumstances, such as levies on Individual Retirement Arrangements and in jeopardy situations.  Manual levies require the same advance notification of the taxpayer as systemic levies, except in cases involving jeopardy situations.  IRS procedures require that manual levies issued by CSRs be reviewed and approved by a manager prior to the levy being issued.  We consider this managerial review to be an effective control.

We analyzed the open ACS case inventory to identify any manual levies issued between July 1, 2004, and September 30,  2004.  Because there is no automated audit trail produced for manual levies, we analyzed case history comments for any references to a manual levy.  Using this methodology, we identified 29 instances in which a manual levy was issued to seize taxpayers’ assets.  Our review of these 29 manual levies issued by CSRs showed the IRS adequately protected taxpayers’ appeal rights.

Revenue officers similarly issue levies systemically through the ICS in most cases.  They are also authorized to issue a manual levy on any case as needed.  While managerial approval is mandatory for manual levies issued by ACS employees, no review or approval is required when revenue officers issue a manual levy.  Prior TIGTA reports have identified problems when IRS employees issue manual levies.  The IRS issued an ICS Alert on March 5, 2004, to remind employees to ensure taxpayer rights are protected whenever a manual levy is issued by revenue officers.  We still believe there is a high risk associated with manual levies.

We analyzed the ICS case inventory assigned to revenue officers to identify any manual levies issued between July 1, 2004, and September 30, 2004.  Because no automated audit trail is produced for manual levies, we analyzed case history comments for any references to a manual levy.  Using this methodology, we identified 32 cases in which a manual levy was issued to seize taxpayers’ assets.  In all cases, taxpayers received proper notification of their rights and were allowed sufficient time, as mandated by the RRA 98, to appeal this action.

 

Appendix I

 

Detailed Objective, Scope, and Methodology

 

The overall objective of this review was to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has complied with 26 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section (§) 6330, Notice and Opportunity for Hearing Before Levy.  To accomplish our objective, we:

I.                   Determined whether the IRS was maintaining sufficient automated controls and procedures to ensure that taxpayers had been advised of their right to a hearing at least 30 days prior to any levy action.

A.    Determined whether automated procedures to prevent levies from being issued less than 30 days from the final notice date were still in place for the Automated Collection System (ACS) Call Centers and the Integrated Collection System (ICS) and documented the current procedures.

B.     Selected a random sample of 30 ICS levies from the population of 95,354 levies issued between July 1 and September 30, 2004, from an extract of the ICS database of open cases as of October 2004.  We analyzed Master File transcripts and the ICS record history for the selected sample cases and verified that taxpayers had been advised of their right to a hearing at least 30 days prior to any levy action.  We did not use statistical sampling because, based on prior years’ testing, we did not anticipate finding any errors; consequently, we would not need to project our results.

C.     Selected a random sample of 30 ACS levies from the population of 417,802 levies issued between July 1 and September 30, 2004, from an extract of the ACS database of open cases as of October 2004.  We analyzed Master File transcripts and the ACS record history for the sample cases selected and verified that taxpayers had been advised of their right to a hearing at least 30 days prior to any levy action.  We did not use statistical sampling because, based on prior years’ testing, we did not anticipate finding any errors; consequently, we would not need to project our results.

II.                Determined whether manual levies issued by revenue officers and ACS personnel complied with legal guidelines in 26 U.S.C. § 6330.

A.    Identified any references to manual levies issued between July 1 and September 30, 2004, by querying the history narrative text field of the ICS open and closed case inventories and the ACS open case inventory.  We identified and reviewed a judgmental sample of 32 manual levies from the open and closed ICS cases and a judgmental sample of 29 manual levies from the open ACS cases.

1.      Requested complete case history files (history query) for all cases containing references to manual levies identified in step II.A.

2.      Reviewed case history documentation and identified whether a revenue officer or an ACS employee (Customer Service Representative) had issued a manual levy.

3.      Analyzed Master File transcripts and ACS and ICS history files to determine whether taxpayers were provided at least 30 days notice prior to any levy action initiated by the IRS.

 

Appendix II

 

Major Contributors to This Report

 

Philip Shropshire, Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Small Business and Corporate Programs)

Parker F. Pearson, Director

Lynn Wofchuck, Audit Manager

Julian E. O’Neal, Lead Auditor

Darryl Roth, Senior Auditor

 

Appendix III

 

Report Distribution List

 

Commissioner  C

Office of the Commissioner – Attn:  Chief of Staff  C

Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement  SE

Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Deputy Commissioner, Small Business/Self-Employed Division  SE:S

Deputy Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

Director, Collection, Small Business/Self-Employed Division  SE:S:C

Director, Compliance, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W:CP

Director, Communications, Government Liaison & Disclosure, Small Business/Self-Employed Division  SE:S:CGL&D

Chief Counsel  CC

National Taxpayer Advocate  TA

Director, Office of Legislative Affairs  CL:LA

Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis  RAS:O

Office of Management Controls  OS:CFO:AR:M

Audit Liaisons: 

Commissioner, Small Business/Self-Employed Division  SE:S

Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division  SE:W

 

Appendix IV

 

Example of Levy (Form 668-B)

 

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