Earlier this year, rumors surfaced that the IRS plans to clean house and phase out all attorney positions from the Office of Professional Responsibility (“OPR”), an independent arm of the Service tasked with enforcing discipline relating to tax professionals practicing before the IRS. On August 7, 2019, the Taxation Section of the American Bar Association (the “Tax Section”) sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig urging him to reconsider this housekeeping plan.
The Tax Section is absolutely correct in its position. Attorney oversight within OPR is critical to ensure OPR’s independence, to ensure the proper interpretation of legal rules applicable to tax practitioners, and to ensure that legal doctrines such as due process and privilege are not undermined.
As I have reported in my previous blog posts, the IRS continues to get hit with severe budget cuts. The result is not pretty: (i) tax collections are on the decline; (ii) the Tax Gap is growing; (iii) taxpayer non-compliance is on the rise; (iii) the availability of taxpayer education has diminished; (iv) the IRS’s customer service continues to worsen (e.g., long waits to speak with service center representatives, elimination of the opportunity for most taxpayers to have an in-person appeal conference, etc.); and (v) the IRS is outsourcing collections.
The Department of the Treasury estimates the annual federal “tax gap” (the difference between what taxpayers should have paid and what they actually paid on a timely basis) exceeds $450 billion. IR-2012-4 (January 6, 2012). This figure correlates with a voluntary tax compliance rate of just shy of 86 percent.
Studies conducted by the National Research Program (“NRP”) conclude that the $450 billion “tax gap” is comprised of three components, namely non-filing of tax returns ($28 billion), underreporting of income ($376 billion) and underpayment of taxes ($46 billion).
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.