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Guest Editorial: Now is the deadline to modernize the IRS
Reports say lawmakers of both parties want to modernize the Internal Revenue Service and put new emphasis on its obligation to assist taxpayers.
There is no better time than the annual tax-filing deadline to rally support for this initiative.
The problem seemingly starts at the top, with the IRS head carrying the title “commissioner” — as in “New York City police commissioner” — rather than something less threatening like “administrator.” That title change is among ideas included in a draft House proposal that should be given serious consideration.
Other recommendations also speak to the notion the agency should be more focused on “service” in behalf of honest taxpayers, rather than beginning with the presumption most everyone is eager to flout a law that is difficult to enforce.
In truth, taxpayers complain about taxes a lot, but a lot of this is because the tax code is so complex as to make understanding what we owe nearly impossible without retaining the services of a tax professional. Having to pay someone to ensure they comply with the law is what sticks in the craw of many people.
Other notable provisions under discussion include making permanent the IRS Free File program. This provides access to free tax preparation software for people below certain income levels and forms that can be electronically filed so anyone can use e-file federal returns.
Fees would be waived for low-income taxpayers seeking to compromise with the IRS and settle their tax debts. A related proposal would prohibit the IRS from turning over debts of low-income filers to private debt-collection agencies. Asset seizures would be more tightly regulated.
Taxpayers also could gain new protections against fraud. A draft idea would add a layer of security by allowing the taxpayer to request a special filing password to use when filing a return. Currently, “identity protection numbers” are given only to filers whom the agency deems to be at risk for fraud.
No doubt, the future of IRS customer service will be heavily oriented to electronic filing — but also electronic communications. The draft proposals would set more aggressive targets for seeing this transition occur over the next several years.
One area of particular interest: Both the IRS and House bill drafters think it is reasonable for the agency to provide everyone with an online taxpayer account by 2023.
This step would give taxpayers and preparers access to information about balances due, the taxpayer’s filing history, allow for sharing documents with the IRS and enable secure tax payments.
IRS workers too often get a bad rap, especially this time of year. It’s more likely it is the slow-to-change system that gets in the way of improved customer service.
St. Joseph News-Press, April 19