Advising the IRS

January 01, 2010

California CPA January/February 2010
Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Provides Opportunity to Ease Compliance Issues

By Sabby Jonathan, CPA
Whether it’s professional, civic or charitable organizations, practitioners have a tendency to be active volunteers. So when I saw a posting a couple of years ago regarding the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, it caught my attention.

Congressionally mandated since 2002, TAP is a group of 100 citizen volunteers, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, tasked with advising the IRS about how it can do a better job serving its customers—taxpayers. The group has made more than 500 recommendations, most of which have been accepted and implemented by the IRS.

An opportunity to change the IRS into something better? I was hooked.

I applied, interviewed and was appointed, and am serving the last year of my three-year term, this year as national chair.

During my time with TAP, I’ve realized that many are unfamiliar with the group or its goals. Fundamentally, our job is to seek feedback from taxpayers, identify issues that can improve the IRS and process those issues.

We also do outreach. For me, that means talking to individuals or groups, and writing articles. I find this enjoyable as I get to meet other practitioners and everyday taxpayers who are just trying to comply with the law. They all have a story to tell and their varied experiences never cease to amaze me.

The majority of our time is spent researching and processing issues that we will present to the IRS as recommendations for approval. Much of this is done during three to five teleconferences a month. We also have several face-to-face meetings each year. Though being a TAP member is an unpaid position, we are reimbursed for our travel expenses.

The issues we select and the recommendations we make tend to focus on changes that would ease the compliance burden for taxpayers. For example, replacing the two-extension procedure for individual returns (one extension for four months and a second extension for two months) with a single six-month extension was the result of a TAP recommendation.

Another successful recommendation was to increase the filing threshold for Schedule C-EZ. As a result, this eased the filing burden for 500,000 small-business owners.

Still, some recommendations are not accepted, which can be frustrating. For example, we suggested an expanded use of e-mail by IRS personnel, including agents and revenue officers. While the IRS agreed with the obvious advantages, security issues prevented the IRS from moving forward.

Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves that we are dealing with an organization of more than 100,000 employees, which processes more than 200 million tax returns—and more than 2 billion information returns!

Making it Easier
The most common theme we hear from practitioners and taxpayers is the bureaucratic inaccessibility and inefficiency often encountered with the IRS. This has gotten to be more of an issue now that correspondence audits account for more than 70 percent of IRS examinations. This is a global systemic issue that we plan to focus on and address in the coming year.

Selecting, researching and processing issues for approval is an intense, ongoing process, but very satisfying when an issue is accepted and implemented by the IRS.

Most of the work on a particular issue is initially done by one to three individuals, then presented to a larger group for feedback and revisions, and finally presented to TAP’s governing board for approval. Once approved, the issue is “elevated” to the IRS. We generally hear back from the IRS within a few weeks.

Getting to know the other TAP members is a hoot. They are smart, dedicated, genuinely nice people—and committed. They have to be to put in the 300 to 500 volunteer hours a year. They come from all over the country, and they are highly diversified economically, culturally and professionally. Getting to know different people, with different backgrounds, all working toward a common goal is a very interesting and satisfying experience. It’s definitely a highlight of my TAP experience.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to give back to the profession, consider TAP. The next recruitment period is in March, so check out TAP’s website at, submit an application and you might be writing a similar article soon!

Sabby Jonathan, CPA is president of Jonathan & Associates, Inc. Certified Public Accountants.

New CalCPA TAP Members
Congratulations to Gary Iskowitz of Los Angeles and Ming Ni Lau of Santa Clara, two of the 30 new appointees to the Taxpayer Advisory Panel who began their term this year.

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