GOP Senators Introduce Bill to Create New Taxpayer Protections
There is growing frustration with the IRS and the tax code in general in the United States. There have been attempts at fixes before, and the latest one was introduced last week by two Republican Senators.
The bill was introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill is called the Tax Payer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act, which is aimed at fixing problems that are causing the public to lose trust.
Improving IRS reputation
“The IRS’s level of customer service might be at an all-time low,” Grassley said in a written statement while introducing the bill. “Taxpayers are at a disadvantage with an agency that has tremendous power over their money. The IRS might talk about good customer service. Too often, talk is all there is. The IRS needs to walk the walk. Congress needs to act. This bill will help swing the pendulum away from agency self-preservation and back to taxpayer service.” Grassley and Thune are both on the Senate Finance Committee and should have detailed knowledge of the IRS.
In an effort to improve its reputation, last June the IRS released a Tax Payer Bill of Rights that offered ways of dealing with the agency. The document is not a “legal document” and not enforceable. The two senators’ bill offers the enhancements that would give it more of a legal standing.
The IRS bill of rights was a step, but this bill will take it a step further. The bill has provisions that should help citizens in dealing with the IRS, and with understanding what their rights are.
The bill increases damages and penalties for unauthorized disclosure or inspection of tax return information. It also increases civil damages for improper collection activities. It also requires that IRS employees be familiar with and cooperate with taxpayer protections. The bill would require employees be terminated for actions taken by the agency for political purposes.
Making information available
Taxpayers who are under investigation would also have more access to information regarding their cases. The bill would also allow taxpayers to bring action against the IRS for any illegal acts committed by the agency.
Protection for groups
It would add protections for 501c3 groups when the IRS does not act on an application in a timely manner or makes a negative judgment on their tax exempt status. The bill would prohibit IRS employees from using personal email accounts to do official business, so it would be harder to hide emails. It would also allow the use of taxpayer information to help find a taxpayer who is due a refund.
In other matters, the bill would allow tax exempt organizations to file forms electronically, and orders that the IRS make information available in a reasonable amount of time. The IRS had been criticized for not responding quickly enough to applications for tax exempt status at times. The bill also imposes requirements for email retention so emails could be examined and hold the IRS accountable.
Targeting tax exempt groups
The bill comes to some degree in response to the IRS admitting that it improperly scrutinizing tax exempt status of some conservative leaning groups. GOP officials have criticized the agency harshly in this area, and the bill would prevent some of that from happening in the future. The bill may also be considered to be retaliation to some degree. The IRS admitted that it had singled out some conservative groups, and emails that could have verified the level of that happening were apparently done on personal accounts and not retrievable during investigations.
IRS other problems
The IRS has other problems which cause the public to distrust them. The Senate has also shown its disapproval in recent years by reducing funding. Its funding has been cut by $1.2 billion over the past five years. The 2015 budget was $10.9 bi9llion, and could fall to $10.1 billion in 2016. That may or may not affect response times to calls when people try to contact the IRS, which has always been difficult. Reports from the treasury inspector general that was recently made public show that people who do get calls answered wait an average of 15.9 minutes, and that wait time was 8.1 minutes in 2011.
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