Posted by Fred Lake

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel: Role and Function

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel: Role and Function

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel advises the IRS on how to improve their service and make recommendations on behalf of American Taxpayers. The purpose of this panel is to recognize, identify, and report important tax issues concerning taxpayers to the IRS.

It is also their responsibility to advise the Taxpayer's Advocate and Uncle Sam. Their role can be seen as a liaison between the citizens and the IRS. They serve as a channel of complaint to the IRS. They look out for issues that affect taxpayers and make recommendations to the IRS on improving taxpayer's satisfaction. 

The panel is made up of 75 people, each hailing from the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

Role of the TAP

There are two principal roles of the TAP

    •    Considering suggestion from taxpayers and making recommendations to the IRS based on this suggestion

    •    Public outreach

Six TAP committees take care of the task. Here are the committees:

    •    Notices and Correspondence

    •    Taxpayer Communications

    •    Tax Forms and Publications

    •    Taxpayer Assistance Centers

    •    Toll-Free Phone Line

    •    Special Projects

The priority and focus of the first five committees are explained in their titles. The last one focuses on two subject matters – identity theft and anything regarding offshore matters.

Whenever taxpayers suggest issues to the TAP, it is examined and classified. The screening process gets rid of some of the problems not relevant to the panel. This could be because the issue could be purely personal to the taxpayer, or it could suggest regulatory changes. It could also be due to a lack of reliable information not enough to suggest an actionable cause.

Any suggestions that passe the screening stage is sent to the relevant committee based on the subject. Like issues are classified together. Any suggestions that will not be addressed immediately are grouped in a "parking lot" to be addressed later. 

Some factors influence the formulation of a proposal based on suggestions. It is the extent to which the suggestion affects the taxpayer's bill of Rights that is usually given preference. In coming up with a proposal, the subcommittee will explore how the proposal affects taxpayer's rights, for instance, the right to a just tax system, the right to be informed, etc.

If a taxpayer’s suggestion leads to a proposal that the TAP adopts, the proposal will be passed through a quality control review. It will have to be approved by the full committee and joint committee before it can be sent to the IRS. 

The IRS must respond to the proposal in 60 days. The response must be explanatory and should express whether the proposal was accepted, accepted partially, or rejected. Any accepted proposal must come with a projected date of implementation. There could also be cases when the proposal is "being considered." This happens when immediate execution is not possible due to reasons like system limitations or budget.

If the IRS rejects a proposal, the taxpayer advocacy panel can come up with a counter-response and submit it to the IRS. The IRS must respond within 30 days to the counter-response.

There are staff analysts with the responsibility of tracking proposals when it is accepted to ensure that it is verified.

What Taxpayers Advocate Does Not Do

The primary purpose of TAP is to take care of systematic issues and not personal ones. It is also not their duty to advise individual taxpayers on their situations.

Also, their mission revolves around improving tax services for taxpayers. They do not deal with legislative or regulatory issues. 

Although, taxpayers can forward suggestions for improvement that arise from their personal experience to the taxpayer's advocate. There are many cases in which personal experience does expose a systematic flaw in IRS issues. There are cases in which the systematic issue might be unclear. When the TAP, however, clearly examines the taxpayer’s suggestion, they could shed more light on it. 

Also, there are times when a suggestion from an individual might seems like a personal issue. However, when more suggestions and complaints are coming in relating to the same issue, it could point to a systematic problem.

For taxpayers with individual issues, they could turn to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS). This institute is charged with addressing personal issues taxpayers could be facing. 

Fred Lake
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