• Americans Abroad
    NEWS FLASH — IRS Won’t Be Helping You Any Day Soon!

    By Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D.

    31-10-2016

    The National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) is required by law to submit a year-end report to Congress. Part of that report must list at least 20 of the most serious problems facing taxpayers and make administrative recommendations to mitigate those problems. Not one to overlook the fact that the US tax system needs some serious fixes, the NTA, Nina E. Olson, made 116 administrative recommendations in the "most serious problems" section of Volume 2 of her 2015 year-end report ("Report"), released on August 24.

    The Report contains the IRS' responses to each of the 116 administrative recommendations. It also contains the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) analysis of the IRS' responses and in some instances, it sets out its disagreement with the IRS' position.

    Problems Unique to US Persons Abroad

    Issues faced by Americans abroad are analyzed commencing page 35 of the NTA Report. Here, the NTA sets out the overall premise that the IRS is not being responsive to American taxpayers living overseas who have very unique tax needs. The IRS strategy for "service on demand" was called out in the Report and basically was given failing grades, much of this due to the closure of all tax attache offices around the world and last year's termination by the IRS of the Electronic Tax Law Assistance Program (ETLA). The Report notes that currently, international taxpayers have only two options for tax help from the IRS. They can (i) call an overwhelmed, tolled IRS telephone number in the United States or (ii) obtain information from the website, irs.gov. As pointed out in one of my earlier blog posts, oral advice from the IRS and information gleaned from IRS publications and tax forms cannot be relied upon by taxpayers.

    The Report states: "The IRS has shut itself off from international taxpayers with no way of knowing whether it is providing the service taxpayers need. Given the complexity of international tax rules and the potentially devastating penalties for even inadvertent noncompliance, the IRS's withdrawal of dialogue makes it more likely taxpayers will get it wrong. It has failed to compensate for the closure of all tax attache offices around the world."

    Many of the comments in the Report have been echoed recently by advocate groups for citizens abroad.

    National Taxpayer Advocate Recommendations & IRS' Disappointing Responses

    NTA made 6 recommendations to address the failures in service to Americans living overseas. These are listed below with the abbreviated IRS response to each, in parenthesis. You can read the Report for further details given by the IRS in its replies to the NTA recommendations, and TAS commentary, when given.

    In brief, in most instances, IRS either did not adopt the recommendation, or did not adopt it as written. In the one instance when the recommendation was adopted (Recommendation #4, below), it was adopted on condition IRS gets the resources and funding to permit its implementation.

    1. Reopen the four international tax attaché offices and provide funding for TAS to establish one LTA position at each office. (Recommendation Not Adopted)
    2. Conduct impact studies to determine the effects on taxpayer service, compliance, and revenue by opening additional tax attaché offices around the world. (Recommendation Not Adopted)
    3. Reestablish the ETLA (or a similar program) with timeframes for responses and create a process for using the information from ETLA inquiries in updates to IRS internal and external materials, including the irs.gov website. (Recommendation Not Adopted as Written, but IRS Actions Taken to Address Issues Raised by the National Taxpayer Advocate)
    4. Allocate funding for staffing additional telephone service to accommodate the need created by the expansion of international enforcement activities. (IRS Actions to be Adopted/Addressed if Resources and Budget Allow)
    5. Create a task force to analyze and provide a report within one year on the barriers to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) usage and partnering with the US Department of State to employ Virtual Service Delivery (VSD) technology for taxpayers at U.S. embassies and consulates. (The IRS response was quite detailed, but in a nutshell, this recommendation cannot be implemented due to monetary and technology constraints. I will add here that the TAS was not impressed with the reply and felt it lacked transparency. This part of the Report is worth reading in detail. See page 44)
    6. Reinstate the International Individual Taxpayer Assistance Team, with a formal charter, regular meetings, objectives, and measurable results. (Recommendation Not Adopted as Written, but IRS Actions Taken to Address Issues Raised by the National Taxpayer Advocate. Again, TAS was not impressed with the reply and feels little will be accomplished without a formal charter, accountability and the like. Well worth reading; see page 44)
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  • The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only. The information is not intended to be comprehensive or to include advice on which you may rely. You should always consult a suitably qualified professional on any specific matter.

Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D.

Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D., is based in Dubai. Virginia has been a member of the New York Bar since 1984 and is also admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court. She has over 30 years of experience specializing in the international aspects of US tax, including FATCA. She has been quoted in the New York Times and Newsweek, and is regularly quoted in many local news articles and publications."

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