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Taxpayer Advocacy Panel: What is it & Why is it Important?

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel: What is it & Why is it Important?

If you've never heard of the TAP (Taxpayer Advocacy Panel), don't worry, you're not alone. Not many people have heard of TAP. 


What is the Taxpayers Advocacy Panel (TAP)?

TAP is a Federal Tax Advisory Board to the IRS. The purpose of the TAP is to help identify tax issues that are important to taxpayers and provide the IRS with a taxpayer perspective on key programs, products, and services. It also serves as a discussion group that recommends the IRS and the National Taxpayer Advocate. TAP members are responsible for listening to taxpayers, identifying taxpayer problems, and making suggestions for improving IRS service and customer satisfaction.

TAP consists of approximately 75 people. They come from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. TAP membership has included someone living outside the United States in recent years.

There are no special professional or educational requirements to join TAP. In particular, you don't have to be a tax expert of any kind, although some members are. The minimum eligibility criteria are:

  1. Be a U.S. citizen.

  2. Comply and be current with all federal tax obligations.

  3. Have a background and fingerprint check.

  4. Not be a federally registered lobbyist.

Members represent a cross-section of American taxpayers: factory workers, professionals, teachers, professors, state government employees, and retirees (including retired military personnel).

All TAP members are volunteers. They receive no salary, although reasonable expenses and, in particular, travel expenses are reimbursed. They are required to work for a three-year term, expecting to spend between 200 and 300 hours a year on the panel and more if they chair a committee or sub-committee.


What does TAP do?

TAP and its members have two primary activities: (1) analyzing taxpayer suggestions and submitting proposals to the IRS based on those suggestions, and (2) engaging in public education.


Examining Suggestions and Formulating Proposals

This activity is carried out entirely through the TAP committees. There are currently six committees:

1. Toll-Free Phone Lines

2. Tax forms and publications

3. Taxpayer Service Centers

4. Notices and correspondence

5. Communications with Taxpayers

6. Special projects

The thematic focus of the first five committees is reflected in their titles. The sixth committee, Special Projects, has two thematic focuses: identity theft and anything tagged "international." This committee is a cover for anything not covered by the other five committees.

Each commission is divided into two sub-commissions. The more detailed work of the TAP, which thoroughly analyzes and studies taxpayer suggestions and makes suggestions for improvement for the IRS based on those suggestions, is done at the subcommittee level.

While some meetings are held in person, most committee and subcommittee work is done virtually via email and monthly online meetings. Most of the committee's plenary meetings are public; in this case, they are notified in the Federal Register, and anyone (for example, you) can call to be part of it.

Employee suggestions sent to TAP are analyzed and classified. The screening process works to filter out suggestions that are not appropriate for TAP, either because they suggest legislative or regulatory changes and/or because they raise purely individual issues with no underlying systemic issues or do not contain enough information to allow TAP to identify an actionable issue.

Suggestions left after this screening process are assigned to the relevant committee based on the topic. Similar problems are often grouped. Suggestions that a committee cannot deal with immediately, perhaps because it is working on other issues considered more pressing or impactful, are put in a "parking lot" to be dealt with later.

When reviewing a suggestion and formulating a proposal, a subcommittee will consider several factors. While many of these factors will vary by topic, an ongoing consideration will be how the suggestion raises one or more of the rights listed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In formulating a proposal, the sub-committee will seek to identify and explain how the proposal addresses, for example, the "right to information," "the right to quality services," and/or "the right to a fair and just tax system."

Once a TAP subcommittee has made a proposal for improvement based on a contributor's suggestion, the proposal is subject to quality control before being submitted for approval by the full committee and then to the approval of the parity committee (composed of the chairs of each committee of the six committees). Only then can the proposal be submitted to the IRS.

The IRS must respond to the proposal within 60 days. The response must be detailed and indicate whether the proposal was adopted, partially adopted, or not. If adopted, the IRS must indicate an estimated implementation date. The IRS may also respond that the proposal is "under review"; this can happen if the proposal cannot be implemented immediately due to budgetary or system constraints.

If the IRS does not adopt a full or partial proposal, the TAP may make and submit a response to which the IRS must respond within 30 days.

TAP staff analysts are responsible for following up on proposals after acceptance to verify their implementation.


What doesn't TAP do?

The goal of TAP is to solve systemic problems, not individual problems. Members of TAP cannot advise individual taxpayers on their personal situations.

Moreover, the mission of the TAP is limited to the improvement of the tax service of the IRS; the mission of the TAP does not extend to legislative or regulatory developments. TAP members do not seek suggestions for legislative or regulatory changes, and TAP cannot respond to or make such suggestions.

This does not mean that a collaborator cannot make suggestions for improvement based on personal experience. An individual's experience will expose an underlying systemic problem in many cases. In other cases, the underlying systemic problem may not be clear at first glance but may become clear due to TAP's careful consideration of the taxpayer's suggestion. Additionally, while an individual suggestion in isolation may appear to be an individual issue, if TAP receives additional comparable suggestions, they may present a systemic issue.

The TAP does not deal with individual cases does not mean that the individual taxpayer has no one to turn to. Another organization called the Taxpayer Advocacy Service (TAS) is tasked with helping resolve individual issues taxpayers may face. In particular, TAS assists taxpayers suffering economic harm or who have failed to resolve IRS issues through normal channels.


Why is TAP relevant for foreign taxpayers?

As you know, U.S. citizens living abroad are subject to U.S. taxes in the same way as people living in the United States. TAP is no less relevant for foreign taxpayers than for U.S. residents in this context.

As a U.S. taxpayer living abroad, you probably understand that living abroad can create complications when filing and paying U.S. taxes or just interacting with the IRS, which you probably won't come across. TAP may help treat some of these complications. Here are three examples:

1) TAP has proposed that the IRS change its authentication options for accessing online self-help tools to better suit people living outside the United States, such as accepting phone numbers and foreign addresses.

2) TAP has encouraged the IRS to investigate ways to make the filing process easier for international taxpayers who have not yet been able to obtain a Social Security number.

3) TAP examined how IRS publications can better communicate and reduce confusion about states and (ii) how deductions are claimed for refundable health insurance premiums, including those paid to foreigners.


What can you do?

Submit suggestions for improvement

The most obvious thing you can do is submit your suggestions for how the IRS can improve. When submitting your suggestion, you should be as clear and specific as possible. If TAP members reviewing your suggestion do not understand it, they will not be able to evaluate it or recommend TAP to follow it. Also, if you can, explain why you think you are raising a systemic issue rather than an individual issue. Finally, to the extent that your suggestion is particularly relevant or important to taxpayers, it may be helpful to explain why, if you can.

Please note that TAP cannot respond to suggestions that require legislative or regulatory changes. This does not mean that you should not support legislative change (on the contrary); it just means that TAP is not the context to do it. The TAP is the framework for proposing improvements to the operation of the IRS per existing legislation and can also, in parallel but in a different context, support legislative changes.

When you submit your suggestion, you will have the option, but not the obligation, to leave your contact details. If you leave your contact details, TAP will be able to contact you, ask you for any additional information you may need, suggest any other steps that may be useful to you (how to contact TAS), and inform you of the result of your suggestion.


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