What I Learned From An IRS Appeals Officer

What I learned from an IRS Appeals Officer

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to associate with IRS personnel at several levels. Each time, I’ve come away with additional insight as to the IRS and how it’s operating. Recently, I had the opportunity with a colleague, to  spend several hours with an IRS Appeals officer on a substantial tax matter of several years. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Generally Helpful. IRS personnel seem to generally be trying to do their job well, be fair and objective in their approach and be helpful wherever they can. In this particular case, the Appeals Officer had spent considerable time reviewing the case and made several recommendations that were to the taxpayer’s benefit. While everything didn’t go the taxpayer’s way, it was clear the Officer was trying to help.
  2. Messy Systems. The IRS “system” right now is a mess. Computer programs have been patched together, don’t communicate, and provide conflicting information. The only real way to address this is to create a completely new system and apparently that’s just not possible. So IRS employees are stuck with what they have – computer program spaghetti.
  3. Frustrated. IRS Employees are generally frustrated with “the system” and feel like it’s a hindrance to them being able to do their jobs well. This appeals officer asked to see the information we had brought on several occasions because she said that the information she had access too was not always accurate. When Congress recently reviewed the apparent improper expenditures on boondoggle IRS conferences for some of the IRS Divisions, it was also revealed that the IRS could not even fully account for its expenditures for the conferences. The actions of the IRS, its flawed systems and the hypocrisy inherent in an agency requiring documentation not being able to provide it when it’s own house was examined are a great source of embarrassment for IRS employees in general.
  4. Money. The clear focus for the IRS is to collect, almost at all costs. The Appeals Officer, almost apologetically revealed, that the official position of the IRS was that it did not care where the money came from, how the taxpayer got it or what hardship it created, the IRS wanted “its money” now. It was also evident that this particular Officer was uncomfortable with that position.
  5. SLOW. Partly because of all the above, and partly because of the inherent inefficiencies of a huge bureaucracy, IRS processing of anything is slow at best. To simply verify a series of documents are complete will take an anticipated 2-3 months. Then to actually look at these documents will require 6-9 months. And that’s for the people whose job it is to do nothing but the document check and the review.

I walked away from this particular encounter grateful that there are still people at the service who seem to care, and troubled that the IRS is so flawed and has such unfeeling goals. I also noted that being aware of the current status of the IRS would be helpful in assisting taxpayers in working through tax issues. And above all, looking forward to a day when the entire system might be reworked to eliminate these issues. Maybe someday!

By: Evan A. Nielsen

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