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Posted by Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC

The Taxpayers Advocacy Panel: What is it & Why is it Important?

The Taxpayers Advocacy Panel: What is it & Why is it Important?

Ever heard of the TAP? Well, you have nothing to worry about as you're not alone. 

What is TAP?

TAP is a Federal Tax Advisory Committee to the IRS. The purpose of TAP is to help identify tax issues that are important to taxpayers and to provide the IRS with taxpayer insight on key programs, products, and services. Also, it serves as a discussion group that makes recommendations to the National Taxpayer Advocate and the IRS. The job of TAP is to listen to taxpayers, identify taxpayer problems, and make suggestions for improving IRS service and customer satisfaction.

TAP consists of approximately seventy-five people. They come from all fifty (50) states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Only in recent years has TAP membership included someone living outside the United States.

There are no specific education or professional requirements to join TAP. You don't have to be a tax professional, although some members are. The minimum eligibility criteria are:

  1. Be a U.S. citizen.

  2. Comply with all federal tax obligations.

  3. Pass a fingerprint and background check.

  4. Not be a federally registered lobbyist.

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

All TAP members are volunteers. That is, they receive no salary, although reasonable expenses and, in particular, travel expenses are reimbursed. They are required to sign up for a three-year term, with the expectation that they will spend approximately 200 to 300 hours a year on the panel or more if they become the chairman of a committee or a sub-committee.

What does the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel do?

TAP has two primary activities: 

  1. Analyzing suggestions and submitting proposals to the Internal Revenue Service based on those suggestions, and 

  2. Engaging in public education.

Examination of suggestions and formulation of proposals

This work is done entirely through the TAP committees. There are currently six committees:

1. Toll-Free Phone Lines

2. Tax forms and publications

3. Taxpayer Assistance Centers

4. Notices and correspondence

5. Taxpayers Communications

6. Special projects

The focus of the first five committees is reflected in their titles. While the sixth committee, Special Projects, has two focuses: identity theft and anything labeled "international." This committee acts as a catch-all for anything that was missed by the other five committees.

While some meetings are in-person, most committee and subcommittee work is done virtually. Most of the committee's meetings are public; in this case, they are announced in the Federal Register, and anyone (e.g., you) can call to be part of it.

Contributor suggestions sent to TAP are analyzed and ranked. The screening process aims to filter out suggestions unsuitable for TAP, either because they suggest regulatory or legislative changes and/or because they raise purely individual issues with no underlying systemic issues or because they do not contain adequate information to enable TAP to identify an actionable issue.

The remaining suggestions after this selection process are assigned to the relevant thematic committee. Similar problems are often grouped. Suggestions that a committee cannot address immediately, perhaps because it is working on other issues deemed more urgent, less, or more impactful, are put in a "parking lot" to be treated later.

A subcommittee will consider several factors when reviewing a suggestion and formulating a proposal. Although many of these factors will vary by topic, one constant consideration will be the extent to which the recommendation represents one or more of the rights listed in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). 

Once a TAP subcommittee has formulated an improvement proposal based on a contributor's suggestion, the proposal undergoes quality control before being presented first for approval by the full committee, then for approval by the joint committee. Only then will TAP submit the proposal to the IRS.

The IRS is expected to respond to the proposal within 60 (sixty) days. The response must indicate whether the proposal was partially adopted, adopted, or not. If it was adopted, the IRS must indicate an estimated date of implementation. The IRS may also respond that the proposal is "under review"; this happens if the proposal cannot be implemented immediately due to system or budgetary constraints.

If the IRS does not adopt a proposal in whole or in part, TAP may make and file a counter-response to which the IRS must respond within 30 (thirty) days.

TAP is responsible for following up on proposals after acceptance to verify their implementation.

Public Outreach

TAP members also participate in public outreach. The purpose of the disclosure is twofold: to inform the public of the existence and objectives of the TAP and to solicit taxpayer suggestions for improving the IRS.

Disclosure can take many forms. Articles like this are one-sided. Another common way is to attend events where the TAP member can interact with taxpayers. Examples include promoting a community group or civic organization and maintaining a TAP booth at a forum, fair, or trade show.

What TAP Does Not Do

The purpose of TAP is to solve systemic problems. Members of TAP are not allowed to advise individual taxpayers on their situations.

Further, TAP's mission is limited to improving the Internal Revenue Service service to taxpayers; TAP's mission does not extend to regulatory or legislative developments. TAP members do not solicit suggestions for regulatory or legislative changes, and TAP cannot respond or make proposals for such suggestions.

This does not mean that a contributor cannot make suggestions for improvement from personal experience. In many cases, an individual's experience reveals an underlying systemic problem. In other cases, the underlying problem may not be apparent at first glance but may become clear due to the TAP's careful review of the taxpayer's suggestion. Further, while an individual suggestion in isolation may appear to be an individual problem, if TAP receives additional comparable suggestions, they may expose a systemic problem together.

The fact that the TAP does not handle individual cases does not mean that the taxpayer with an individual case has no one to turn to. Another organization called the Taxpayer Advocacy Service (TAS) is responsible for helping resolve individual issues that taxpayers may face. In particular, CAS assists taxpayers who suffer property damage or 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 much the same way as those in the United States. TAP is less relevant for foreign taxpayers than U.S. residents in this context.

As a U.S. taxpayer living abroad, you probably understand that living abroad can create complications with filing and paying U.S. taxes or simply interacting with the IRS that U.S. residents are unlikely to encounter. TAP can help resolve some of these complications.



Jim McClaflin, EA, NTPI Fellow, CTRC
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