(Washington, DC) The IRS Oversight Board held its eighth Public Forum on February 17th, and expert panelists in employee engagement, risk management, and the IRS budget took part in a roundtable discussion with Board members to offer advice about “best practices” in the private sector that could be applied to the IRS’ operation.
Panelists from The Gallup Organization, Sirota Consulting, the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the National Treasury Employees Union stressed the importance of employee engagement and its positive linkage to performance and productivity. They also agreed that an organization must do much more than conduct a well-crafted employee survey. Rather, a survey should be one element of a holistic approach to develop and empower employees on an on-going basis throughout their careers.
Expert panelists stressed that successful risk management must be embedded in the organization with the tone coming from the top, and emphasized the importance of protecting assets and incorporating security and safety throughout the organization. Such a program protects the human, physical, and information assets of an enterprise, as well as intangible assets, such as the reputation and standing of the enterprise.
A panel of former senior government leaders in tax administration, including two former IRS Commissioners and experts from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Urban Institute discussed issues of IRS funding and the importance of the IRS to the nation’s economic infrastructure. Panelists agreed that the IRS is under-funded, but saw steady funding growing over an extended period, such as a decade, as a much more effective approach to strengthening tax administration than a one-year surge in resources. Charles Rossotti, IRS Commissioner from 1997 – 2002, noted that the most important funding decisions come not from Capitol Hill, but from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
The agenda from the forum can be found at www.treasury.gov/irsob/meetings. A meeting summary will be posted in the coming weeks.
Taxpayer Advocate Encourages Collection Alternatives During Economic Downturn
On February 18th, the Oversight Board met with National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who discussed the latest Office of Taxpayer Advocate’s 2008 Annual Report to Congress, which describes taxpayers’ serious problems and recommends solutions. Ms. Olson emphasized addressing challenges Americans are facing during an economic downturn, including losing their homes or assets due to non-payment of taxes. She discussed alternative collection actions intended to balance enforcing the tax law while not making it so difficult that taxpayers can never financially recover and resolve their tax debts.
Board Discusses Next Steps in IRS Technology Strategy
The IRS briefed the Board on its approach to bring the Customer Account Data Engine project to its end state. The IRS’ Business Systems Modernization program must address evolving challenges while taking advantage of advancements in technology to make the most out of taxpayers’ dollars. The Board was encouraged by the IRS’ new focus on developing plans that most effectively complete the project, and stressed the importance of developing realistic but challenging cost, schedule, and performance estimates to complete the project that the Board and other stakeholders can use to monitor future progress.
“The Board will continue to oversee the IRS’ long-term approach to develop a business system that serves taxpayers better, faster, and more securely than its current legacy systems. The Board will ask hard questions of the IRS and track its progress to ensure this program continues to deliver tangible benefits for America’s taxpayers,” said Board Chairman Paul Cherecwich.
Filing Season Update
The IRS briefed the Board on this year’s filing season, which has a number of processing challenges, most notably the Recovery Rebate Credit for those who did not claim their stimulus payment last year. In addition, the IRS anticipates more phone calls as taxpayers face issues relating to the economic downturn and raise questions about new changes in the tax code. The IRS reports that several efforts are underway to provide taxpayers with the information needed to meet their tax obligations.
Improving Correspondence Exam Process
The IRS conducts over one million correspondence exams every year, which effect far more taxpayers than in-person audits. IRS research has shown that many customers find the correspondence exam process too lengthy and IRS correspondence difficult to understand. At the Board’s meeting, the IRS outlined its efforts to speed the process and provide clearer explanations and instructions to taxpayers.
“No one is pleased to receive correspondence from the IRS, but these exams are an important part of the IRS’ overall enforcement program,” said Board Chairman Paul Cherecwich. “But these exams must not be more difficult than they have to be. The IRS should make the process easy to understand, timely, and set taxpayers’ expectations appropriately. There is a place for service even during an audit.”
The Board also discussed the status of the IRS FY 2009, 2010, and 2011 budgets, as well as updates on the IRS strategic plan for research and the agency’s Workforce for Tomorrow initiative.
The next Board meeting will be held April 20-21st in Washington, DC