Tax Administration

IRS Inspection Service and Taxpayer Advocate Roles for Ensuring That Taxpayers Are Treated Properly Gao ID: T-GGD-98-63 February 5, 1998

This testimony discusses the following four issues related to allegations of taxpayer abuse and employee misconduct at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): (1) the adequacy of IRS controls over the treatment of taxpayers, (2) the responsibilities of the Offices of the Chief Inspector and the Treasury Office of the Inspector General in investigating allegations of taxpayer abuse and employee misconduct, (3) the organizational placement of IRS Inspection, and (4) the role of the Taxpayer Advocate in handling taxpayer complaints. Although IRS management has indicated a renewed commitment to treating taxpayers properly, GAO found that the agency's management system makes it impossible to determine the extent of reported taxpayer abuse or actions taken to address complaints.

GAO noted that: (1) in spite of IRS management's heightened awareness of the importance of treating taxpayers properly, GAO remains unable to reach a conclusion as to the adequacy of IRS' controls to ensure fair treatment; (2) this is because IRS and other federal information systems that collect information related to taxpayer cases do not capture the necessary management information to identify instances of abuse that have been reported and actions taken to address them and to prevent recurrence of those problems; (3) Treasury OIG and IRS Inspection have separate and shared responsibilities for investigating allegations of employee misconduct and taxpayer abuse; (4) IRS Inspection has primary responsibility for investigating and auditing IRS employees, programs, and internal controls; (5) Treasury OIG is responsible for the oversight of IRS Inspection investigations and audits and may perform selective investigations and audits at IRS; (6) the two offices share some responsibilities as reflected in a 1994 IRS Commissioner-Treasury OIG Memorandum of Understanding; (7) in the Committee's September 1997 hearings, questions were raised about the independence of IRS Inspection; (8) subsequently, suggestions have been made to remove IRS Inspection from IRS and place it in Treasury OIG; (9) regardless of where IRS Inspection is placed organizationally, within IRS or Treasury OIG, mechanisms need to be in place to ensure its accountability and its ability to focus on its mission independent from undue pressures or influences; (10) the Inspectors General Act as amended in 1988, provides guidance on the authorities, qualifications, safeguards, resources, and reporting requirements needed to ensure independent investigation and audit capabilities; (11) in 1979, the Taxpayer Ombudsman was established administratively within IRS to advocate for taxpayers and assume authority for IRS' Problem Resolution Program; (12) in 1988, this position was codified in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights 1; (13) in 1996, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights 2 replaced the Ombudsman with the Taxpayer Advocate and expanded the responsibilities of the new Office of the Taxpayer Advocate; (14) the Advocate was charged under the legislation with helping taxpayers resolve their problems with the IRS and with identifying and resolving systemic problems; and (15) it is now nearly 20 years after the creation of the first executive-level position in IRS to advocate for taxpayers, and questions about the effectiveness of the advocacy continue to be asked.

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