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Removing ‘Service’ from the IRS

Letter from David Larkin

Government – July 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

To the Editor:

There is a key document at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), where I work, that tells us how we are to do our jobs. It’s called the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) and this is what it says about Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) and the employees who work there: “The TAC program provides an opportunity to create a positive image for the IRS to the general public,” the manual says, adding: “You are the IRS to every taxpayer you assist, so it is especially important to be fair, patient and willing to listen to every taxpayer’s situation.”

Why then is the IRS closing dozens of TACs around the country, including here in Colorado Springs?

That’s right. The IRS said that despite the wide range of tax-related services provided by TAC employees to more than 7.7 million American taxpayers in 2004 alone, it is shutting down 68 of them by September 30. Coupled with previous closures in Durango, Alamosa and Pueblo, the closure of the Colorado Springs TAC means all of southern and southeastern Colorado taxpayers will have to drive to Denver to get the assistance they must have.

The shutdown, combined with a substantial cutback in the number of hours the IRS will be offering tax help over the telephone, is apparently part of a continuing agency effort to force taxpayers to turn to the Internet for their tax help. That makes little to no sense. Many taxpayers have no access to the Internet; for others, they likely are not familiar enough with the increasingly-complex tax code to be able to use the IRS’s web site effectively enough to get the help they need.

At the very least, these cutbacks are going to prove to be counterproductive in terms of compliance with the tax laws, particularly hurting people who need the help the most. These include low-income taxpayers, military personnel, small businesses, retired persons, self-employed, the elderly and those who need help with language barriers — all of whom are among the most frequent users of the in-person help available at the TACs.

My union, Chapter 32 of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), represents over 900 IRS employees, including a number who work in taxpayer assistance, and we know from extensive first-hand knowledge that face-to-face service is the best way not only to help taxpayers but to boost compliance with the law.

Why are we making it harder for people who want to do the right thing — pay their fair share in taxes — to do so? This is exactly the opposite of the course the IRS should be taking. We should be helping taxpayers rather than cutting them adrift.

David Larkin

Colorado Springs

Legislative Coordinator

Chapter 32, National Treasury Employees Union