Editor’s Note: Lynn Jenkins is a Republican congresswoman from Kansas’s 2nd congressional district who serves as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
Thanks to the Internal Revenue Service, many dread the month of April. In fact, if given the option between (a) dealing with the IRS or (b) undergoing a root canal, most would probably go to the dentist. That’s because the IRS is anything but user-friendly. Trust me, as a certified public accountant, I’ve heard all the horror stories and have helped taxpayers through a good number myself.
At a time when most Americans are able to spend entire days working with just their iPhones, the IRS still relies on fax machines for many official communications. This means tax-preparers spend countless hours sending faxes to the IRS. Imagine the racket in that building. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, the agency has two of the oldest legacy information technology (IT) systems in the federal government, which given the broader state of our government’s IT infrastructure, is quite an achievement. The IRS still has 1960s systems from the Kennedy Administration used to administer our nation’s tax code, one of the most critical functions in government.
Last December, Republicans passed historic tax reform legislation, which President Donald Trump signed into law. With a reformed tax code, it’s now time to fix the tax collection agency.
Our committee’s bipartisan plan, released Monday, looks to fix critical areas of the agency and refocus its mission toward helping taxpayers. The legislation will overhaul the IRS for the first time since 1998 and improve IRS customer service by replacing outdated IT systems. It will also upgrade the IRS’s cybersecurity and identity theft protection abilities – both of which are badly needed.
The goal for the IRS is to provide first class service to American taxpayers, rather than the dysfunctional service too many have come to expect. Through this legislation, taxpayers will be able to easily access their information, day or night, readily have their questions answered and quickly resolve issues. The IRS should educate and provide guidance to taxpayers on what is required to comply with the tax code – making the process of paying taxes as painless as possible.
Our plan will also protect low-income taxpayers by extending the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant Program (VITA), which will provide tax preparation assistance to low-income taxpayers and those in underserved populations.
The IRS must work for, not against, the taxpayer. That is why our IRS plan also establishes an independent office of appeals to ensure that taxpayers pay exactly what they owe and receive a fair and impartial review of disputes they may have with the IRS. It provides many important clarifications regarding IRS enforcement powers. This includes reining in civil asset forfeiture authority and also creating new safeguards for taxpayers’ private information.
It is important to remember that the IRS does not wield ultimate authority in America – taxpayers do.
As we work toward the first revamp of the IRS in 20 years, these reforms must be built upon IT systems that are modern and up-to-date (sorry, fax machine repairmen). The bill also ensures that the IRS is held accountable if modernization efforts fall short by stipulating that funds spent must produce measurable results.
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Americans must be able to trust that their private information is secure. Although the number of reported identity thefts has recently dropped, the IRS still received a startling 242,000 reports of theft from taxpayers in 2017. It is essential for the IRS to have the capacity to remain ahead of evolving threats posed by bad actors and to be able to proactively combat identity theft refund fraud. Most importantly, the IRS must be able to readily assist taxpayers when they are victims of fraud.
We are thinking boldly about the IRS’s future – in order to return the IRS to its service-first mission. Whether it is online, in-person or by phone, taxpayers deserve a tax collection agency that is focused on them.