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Eight ways to improve IRS e-Services

July 11, 2013

Rather than retire useful features, the IRS should add tools for practitioners.

By Jim Buttonow, CPA, CITP

Many tax practitioners were surprised June 7 when the IRS announced that it would retire the Disclosure Authorization (DA) and Electronic Account Resolution (EAR) tools from its e-Services suite of products. To many practitioners, the announcement appeared out of step with previous IRS communications encouraging practitioners to use e-Services—and even mandating that practitioners e-file their clients’ returns. This growing momentum to implement electronic solutions stands in stark contrast to the IRS’ decision to retire DA and EAR.

In an age of increased automation and decreased budgets, automated customer service tools have become the norm. Financial institutions provide online tools that allow clients to access their accounts and make transactions. E-commerce companies provide service via online chat, web form communication, and email updates that track activity and orders. Electronic tools allow these companies to quantify customer service issues and route only serious matters to more expensive call centers.

IRS cites low utilization

In its statement June 7, the IRS cited low usage of DA and EAR products as the reason for retiring them. However, it is clear that practitioner demand for the functions of these products is high.

For example, in 2010, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) noted that the IRS sent approximately 200 million notices to taxpayers and their representatives each year (TIGTA Rep’t 2010-40-055, page 1). To understand and address a notice, tax professionals must often file an authorization (such as Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, or Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization) to contact the IRS on behalf of their clients. Using e-Services, tax professionals can instantaneously file an authorization via DA and request clarification of the notice via EAR. EAR also allows practitioners to instantly inquire about client refunds, request account changes, establish installment agreements for clients to pay taxes owed, and submit other inquiries—all without long wait times or faxing authorizations during a call to the IRS.

The IRS suggested that, in place of using DA and EAR e-Services tools, tax practitioners call the IRS with account questions and deliver authorizations by mail or fax. Many practitioners are asking why the IRS is taking a step backward to less automation. Several facts, including an almost $1 billion IRS budget reduction and 7,000 fewer employees in the past few years, call into question the IRS’ long-term strategy of cutting back on tools for tax professionals to electronically interact with the IRS (IRS Oversight Board, Annual Report to Congress 2012).

As an alternative to discontinuing these two programs, the IRS should try to improve e-Services to better serve tax professionals and their clients. Here are eight ways the IRS could increase practitioners’ use of e-Services:

  1. Provide examples of common practical uses of e-Services on IRS.gov

    Education through illustrating practical uses would go a long way in helping tax professionals understand exactly how to use e-Services. The IRS could demonstrate common situations, such as requesting first-time penalty abatement or inquiring about a notice using EAR. By seeing practitioner-focused examples, more tax professionals would be able to visualize how their practices can benefit from the automated tools that e-Services offers.

  2. Allow tax practitioners to withdraw disclosure authorization forms

    The DA product currently helps practitioners avoid the 10-day delay in registering an authorization with the IRS when faxing or mailing the forms. Withdrawing authorizations, however, is still done manually. Many times, the IRS doesn’t process withdrawal requests, leaving authorizations erroneously in effect. Practitioners and taxpayers often remain unaware of active authorizations on file with the IRS.

    Adding to the confusion is practitioners’ inability to obtain information on outstanding authorizations using e-Services. To determine whether the IRS correctly processed withdrawal requests, practitioners must send a Freedom of Information Act request to the IRS to receive information on outstanding authorizations. Automating authorization withdrawal would enable tax professionals to manage their authorizations entirely using IRS e-Services.

    Practitioner Bill Kaiser of Mesa, Ariz., strongly supports the suggestion that the IRS improve DA functionality.

    “The reality is that the DA process is so limited in scope that it simply does not meet the needs of large percentages of potential users,” Kaiser wrote in an email to me. “You can create a power of attorney online, but you cannot revoke or withdraw online. How does this make sense? Which action puts the taxpayer at the greatest risk?”

    Kaiser also thinks the IRS is incorrect in its assumption about low practitioner demand for DA.

    “It appears to me that the e-Services DA process is underutilized because it does not address the needs of the tax practitioner community it was intended to serve,” Kaiser wrote. “[T]he IRS should be soliciting comments from the tax professional community with an eye toward improving the online DA system.”

  3. Provide the ability to obtain transcripts via Form 8821, especially for nonlicensed firm members

    Currently, only Circular 230 practitioners (CPAs, enrolled agents, and attorneys) can use the Transcript Delivery System (TDS) to obtain client account transcripts (see the IRS’ Circular 230 FAQs for e-Services Access). Other tax professionals who want to use Form 8821 to access client information can’t use e-Services to do so, including many nonlicensed professionals, who make up about 57% of current Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) holders. Providing DA and TDS access to all PTIN holders who are registered and in good standing with the IRS would remove many phone requests to the IRS for client information.

  4. Enable representatives to receive copies of client notices in a secure mailbox

    Not only would this environmentally friendly option save paper, postage, and mail personnel resources, but it would also provide more timely notification of client issues to tax practitioners—which is especially important in responding when deadlines are tight.

  5. Provide a client status dashboard

    Currently, when there is an issue with a return or a client account, tax professionals can use EAR to ask specific questions or to inquire about the status of a client account. However, to quickly obtain information about a client’s status or assignment to an IRS business unit, practitioners often must call the IRS. Many times, calls are routed to several IRS representatives before reaching the unit assigned to the client account.

    Similar to online commercial package tracking, adding an e-Services taxpayer status dashboard would expedite the process for practitioners to determine taxpayer status and quickly contact the correct IRS function to address a client’s issue.

  6. Provide the ability for practitioners to obtain business information statement transcripts

    As the IRS expands its underreporter program to matching business information statements, businesses are finding it increasingly useful to match their returns against information statements on file with the IRS. Currently, the IRS provides income information statement transcripts (called wage and income transcripts) via e-Services only for individual taxpayer accounts.

    If the IRS permitted access to business information statement transcripts via e-Services, practitioners would have another effective due-diligence tool to file more accurate returns.

  7. Provide the ability to electronically submit CP2000, Automated Underreporter Notices, and mail audit responses

    In 2012, the IRS conducted almost 6 million CP2000 inquiries and mail audits, often involving extensive documentation and correspondence by mail or fax (2012 IRS Databook, Tables 9a, 14). The IRS should allow tax professionals to upload responses and documentation to e-Services. The efficiencies would be tremendous for the IRS and tax professionals. The IRS could avoid imaging and routing responses to the appropriate personnel, and tax professionals could avoid compiling and faxing or mailing extensive documentation.

    According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2012, the IRS received 21 million pieces of mail, 40% of which was not processed on time. This innovation could save back office services, increase efficiency in processing, and provide practitioners with the comfort of an online receipt confirming their timely response.

  8. Add penalty abatement requests, including reasonable cause requests, as an EAR inquiry

    With 38 million IRS penalties issued in 2012, tax professionals should be able to electronically request penalty abatement from the IRS. Currently, practitioners send abatement letters and hope the IRS processes the letters. Practitioners do not know whether the IRS has received and reviewed the request letter.

    Taxpayer representatives can use e-Services to inquire about the status of the abatement request and ask for first-time abatement only when their client’s case is not in a compliance function, such as IRS Collection. Practitioners cannot electronically request reasonable-cause penalty abatement. Adding electronic penalty abatement requests to e-Services could streamline this often indefinite and manual process.

Conclusion

With 60% of taxpayers relying on a tax professional to file returns, the IRS should not take a step backward by retiring electronic tools. It should look at innovative ways to enable tax professionals to effectively interact with the IRS and better serve taxpayers.

This article originally appeared in the AICPA Tax Insider™ E-Newsletter.

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YOUR EXCLUSIVE REMEDY AND THE ENTIRE LIABILITY OF NEW RIVER (AND ITS AFFILIATES,  SUBSIDIARIES, BUSINESS PARTNERS, AND SUPPLIERS) ARISING UNDER THIS AGREEMENT WITH RESPECT TO YOUR USE OF THE SERVICES OR OTHERWISE, SHALL BE LIMITED TO THE AMOUNT PAID BY YOU TO NEW RIVER PURSUANT TO THIS AGREEMENT, IF ANY. IN NO EVENT WILL THE NEW RIVER (OR ITS AFFILIATES,  SUBSIDIARIES, BUSINESS PARTNERS, AND SUPPLIERS) BE LIABLE TO YOU, REGARDLESS OF THE FORM OF ACTION, WHETHER IN CONTRACT OR IN TORT, INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE, FOR ANY INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, LOST DATA, LOST PROFITS OR BUSINESS, LOSS OF USE, OR FOR ANY CLAIM OR DEMAND AGAINST YOU BY ANY OTHER PARTY, EVEN IF NEW RIVER HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.

YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT NEW RIVER AND ITS RESPECTIVE BUSINESS PARTNERS, LICENSORS, AFFILIATES AND SUBSIDIARIES DO NOT PRACTICE LAW NOR ARE THEY PROVIDING OR RENDERING ANY SUCH LEGAL OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES TO YOU WITH REGARD TO THE SERVICES PROVIDED PURSUANT TO THIS AGREEMENT. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE SERVICES PROVIDED PURSUANT TO THIS AGREEMENT ARE NOT SUBSTITUTES FOR THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY. YOU FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE THAT LAWS VARY FROM STATE TO STATE AND CHANGE OVER TIME AND IT MAY BE ADVISABLE UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES TO HAVE THE FINAL DOCUMENTS, FORMS AND LETTERS REVIEWED BY AN ATTORNEY BEFORE USE.

You agree that New River will not at any time have any additional liability for any claim, cause of action or injury that You or any other person may have as a result of: (1) Your use of, or inability to use, the Services contemplated by this Agreement; (2) Your use of any documents, letters or notices generated by in connection with the Services contemplated by this Agreement; (3) Your use of any information obtained through verbal communication with New River; or (4) Your retention of, or Your failure to consult or retain, an attorney with respect to any contract, document, letter, notice, litigation, negotiation or other legal matter. You agree that the essential purposes of this Agreement can be fulfilled even with these limitations on liabilities. You acknowledge that New River would not be able to offer the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement on an economical basis without these limitations.

You agree to hold New River and its successors, assigns, officers, directors, representatives, employees , agents and Business Partners harmless from and against any claim, suit, loss, liability, penalty or damages (including incidental and consequential damages), costs and expenses (including reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses), arising from or out of: (i) Your breach of this Agreement; (ii) Your violation of any third party right, including without limitation any copyright, property, or privacy right; or (iii) any claim that Your Comments caused damage to a third party.

13. Consent to Electronic Communications

You consent to New River providing You in electronic form any information or notices that New River may be required by law to send to You or that may pertain to the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement, or use of information You may submit in connection with the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement (collectively "Information"). New River may provide Information to You: (1) via e-mail at the e-mail address You designated to New River (if any); or (2) in the course of Your use of the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement, including, without limitation, via a screen or page within beyond415.com or via a link from within beyond415.com to a web page containing the Information.

If Your e-mail address changes, You must notify New River of such change immediately. If You fail to do so, You understand and agree that any communications sent via e-mail shall nevertheless be deemed to have been provided or made available to You in electronic form. You may withdraw Your consent to receive Information by either indicating Your decision within Your Online Account or by making a request in writing to the following address: New River Innovation, Inc., PO Box 10941, Greensboro, NC 27404. Please provide Your physical address and email address to request the change. If You choose to withdraw Your consent to electronic communications, then You may be unable to access certain features or functionality that would otherwise be made available to You.

14. Arbitration

New River and You agree that any claim, dispute or controversy, whether in contract, tort (intentional or otherwise), whether pre-existing, present or future, and including constitutional, statutory, common law, regulatory and equitable claims in any way arising out of or relating to: (1) the Services; (2) advertisements, promotions, or oral or written statements arising out of or relating to the services provided pursuant to this Agreement; or (3) the relationship between New River and You, including the validity, enforceability or scope of this Agreement or any part hereof (collectively, "Claim"), shall be resolved, upon the election of either New River or You, by binding arbitration pursuant to this arbitration provision and the applicable rules of American Arbitration Association or the National Arbitration Forum in effect at the time a Claim is filed. The party initiating the arbitration proceeding shall have the right to select one of these two arbitration administrators. In the event of a conflict between this arbitration provision and the rules of the arbitration administrator, this arbitration provision shall govern. No class actions or joinder or consolidation of any Claim with other persons are permitted in the arbitration without the written consent of New River and You. Any arbitration hearing that You attend will take place in Greensboro, North Carolina. This arbitration agreement is made pursuant to a transaction involving interstate commerce and shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16 ("FAA"). The arbitrator shall apply substantive law consistent with (1) the FAA; and (2) except where inconsistent with the FAA, the choice of law provision of this Agreement. The arbitrator's award shall not be subject to appeal, except as permitted by the FAA. Upon request of either party, the arbitrator shall prepare a short, reasoned written opinion supporting the arbitration award. Judgment upon the award may be entered in any court having jurisdiction. Nothing in this arbitration provision shall prevent New River from seeking or obtaining injunctive relief as a result of a violation or threatened violation of this Agreement and any such injunctive action shall not constitute a waiver of the requirement of arbitration for any Claim.

15. Entire Agreement

This Agreement constitutes the entire agreement between New River and You in connection with Your use of the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement, and verbal communication with New River and any Content. New River may update the terms and conditions of this Agreement from time to time by: (i) posting a "change of terms" notice on the Beyond415 application home page, (ii) emailing an updated copy to the most recent email address You have provided to New River, or (iii) without notice to You, and Your subsequent use of the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement, is governed by such new terms and conditions. In the event of termination of this Agreement, all disclaimers and limitations of liability provisions set forth in this Agreement will survive. If any provision is deemed to be unlawful or unenforceable, it will not affect the validity and enforceability of the remaining provisions. The section headings are for convenience only and do not have any force or effect.

16. Miscellaneous

This Agreement is not for the benefit of any third party, whether directly or indirectly (including, if applicable, any user accessing the Services provided pursuant to this Agreement by means of Your Online Account). The failure to exercise in any respect any right provided for herein will not be deemed a waiver of any further rights hereunder. If any provision of this Agreement is found to be unenforceable or invalid, that provision will be limited or eliminated to the minimum extent necessary so that this Agreement will otherwise remain in full force and effect and enforceable. This Agreement is not assignable, transferable or sub-licensable by You except with New River's prior written consent. THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS WILL BE GOVERNED BY AND CONSTRUED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA WITHOUT REGARD TO THE CONFLICT OF LAWS PROVISIONS THEREOF OR THE UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON CONTRACTS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL SALE OF GOODS. YOU AND PROVIDER AGREE TO SUBMIT TO THE EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION OF THE COURTS LOCATED IN GUILFORD COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA.

 

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