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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

Press Release

October 14, 2014
TIGTA - 2014-29
Contact: David Barnes
(202) 622-3062

Processes Are Needed to Ensure That Letters and Notices Are Written in Compliance With the Plain Writing Act

WASHINGTON -- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken a number of actions to implement requirements of the Plain Writing Act, but more needs to be done to ensure that letters and notices are understandable to taxpayers, according to a report publicly released today by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Congress enacted the Plain Writing Act of 2010 to enhance citizen access to Government information and services by ensuring that Government documents issued to the public are written clearly. This audit was initiated to assess IRS processes and procedures to ensure that letters and notices are in compliance with the Plain Writing Act. Taxpayers may experience burden when they cannot understand the actions they are asked to take or the taxes assessed in IRS letters and notices.

“The IRS mails more than 200 million letters and notices each year to individual and business taxpayers to help them understand and meet their tax obligations,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “Not only does it make good business sense, but the law requires clear Government communications that the public can understand and use.”

The IRS has designated a senior official to oversee the agency’s implementation of the Plain Writing Act, trained employees on the Act, and developed a toolkit for use by employees, TIGTA found. However, the IRS’s encountered challenges in its effort to create a master list of all letters and notices it issues to taxpayers due to the high volume of documents issued and the multitude of different systems used to generate correspondence to taxpayers.

In addition, the process for reviewing letters and notices does not always ensure that these documents are written in plain language. TIGTA’s evaluation of statistically valid samples of 18 letters and 38 notices that were revised or redesigned during Fiscal Year 2013 identified that nine (50 percent) of the letters and 25 (66 percent) of the notices are not clearly written and structured or do not provide sufficient information. For example, Notice 3, IMF 2nd Balance Due Notice, informs taxpayers that the IRS can file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien on the taxpayer’s property. However, the notice does not adequately explain or define a Tax Lien.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS develop a process to identify the universe of letters and notices it sends to taxpayers, ensure that its technical writers have sufficient formal training on the Federal Plain Language Guidelines, ensure that the managers’ quality review process includes confirming the revised letter or notice is reviewed for plain writing, and develop a

process to document corrective actions considered and taken to address its contractor’s recommendations.

The IRS agreed with three of TIGTA’s recommendations; however, it said that identifying its universe of letters and notices would require extensive work for a result that would provide limited value. TIGTA continues to believe that all letters and notices that the IRS sends to taxpayers are subject to the Plain Writing Act and the IRS must complete its master list of letters and notices.

Read the report.


Note: The difference between the date TIGTA issues an audit report to the Internal Revenue Service and the date TIGTA publicly releases the report is due to TIGTA's internal review process to ensure that public release is in compliance with Federal confidentiality laws.

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