IRS RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION: Congress has changed the tax code dramatically over the years, but the basic functions of tax administration have remained the same: collect the appropriate amount of tax due to the government and ensure timely and accurately filed returns. The taxpayer’s role is to understand and meet their tax obligations, and most do, since roughly 98 percent of the taxes collected are paid without active intervention by the IRS. In effect, the IRS focuses on helping the large majority of taxpayers who are willing to comply with the tax law, while seeing to it that the minority who are unwilling to comply do not evade their tax responsibilities.
A fair reading of the IRS mission statement – together with the agency’s vision, strategic goals, objectives and core values – illustrates a multi-faceted focus on service, enforcement and operational excellence. The IRS mission is to “provide America’s taxpayers top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” The vision is to “uphold the integrity of our nation’s tax system and preserve the public trust through our talented workforce, innovative technology and collaborative partnerships.” The agency’s core values include:
- Honesty and Integrity: We uphold the public trust in all that we do we are honest and forthright in all of our internal and external dealings.
- Respect: We treat each colleague, employee and taxpayer with dignity and respect.
- Continuous Improvement: We seek to perform the best that we can today, while embracing change, so that we can perform even better in the future.
- Inclusion: We embrace diversity of background, experience, and perspective.
- Openness and Collaboration: We share information and collaborate, recognizing that we are a team.
- Personal Accountability: We take responsibility for our actions and decisions and learn and grow from our achievements and mistakes.
To reinforce our purpose as public servants and stewards of the nation’s tax system, the entire IRS workforce – including executives, managers, and thousands of employees located across the country – are trained to know and apply these values in all facets of their employment with IRS. All employees are expected to protect taxpayer rights and adhere to the highest ethical standards.
A fair assessment of the agency’s compliance activities, including conducting audits and collecting taxes, would acknowledge that IRS procedures have elements of taxpayer service embedded in the process. In effect, service and compliance activities are inextricably linked. For example, IRS revenue agents conducting audits of taxpayer returns are evaluated on the requirement to maintain fair and equitable treatment of taxpayers. That means the employee must administer the tax laws fairly and equitably, protect all taxpayer rights and treat them with honesty, integrity and respect.
Notably, all IRS enforcement programs also include measures for customer satisfaction as a way to judge performance and remain focused on the ultimate goal of positively influencing voluntary compliance. In practice, revenue officers provide taxpayers a service by sharing their technical knowledge to help the taxpayer resolve account issues and avoid problems in the future. Similarly, tax examiners read and reply to taxpayer letters with the goal of being timely, courteous and professional, and IRS criminal investigators, whose tax prosecutions directly impact voluntary compliance, staunchly defend the tax system in ways that signal to honest taxpayers that the system is fair.
Enforcement of the tax law helps ensure all taxpayers can have trust and confidence that the IRS will not stand for willful noncompliance by the unscrupulous who would otherwise attempt to circumvent tax laws. Merely because the IRS has a duty to conduct enforcement activities does not mean the agency’s culture is enforcement-oriented. Rather, the IRS is oriented toward helping all taxpayers come into full compliance with their federal tax obligations.
The IRS is the world’s most efficient tax agency serving the largest population of taxpayers who voluntarily comply with the law. Every employee is held to high standards and evaluated based on the requirements of their particular job, which in turn, must align with the agency’s mission and strategic goals. We will continue to pursue efforts that make tax compliance easier by creating an environment that encourages taxpayer trust and confidence. Part of that effort necessarily includes proactive education, outreach, and tailored communications and interactions, informed by data and behavioral insights, to assist taxpayers in understanding their tax obligations.
CORRECTIVE ACTION: N/A
TAS RESPONSE: The National Taxpayer Advocate is disappointed by the IRS’s unwillingness to consider changes to its mission statement. In RRA 98, Congress directed the IRS to revise its mission statement to place greater emphasis on taxpayer service. The IRS did so. But as noted above, the IRS revised its mission statement again in 2009 to change its focus from “applying” the law to “enforcing” the law. It made this change without consulting or notifying either our office or, as far as we know, the congressional tax-writing committees. Since 2009, Members of Congress have expressed concern about the extent to which the IRS respects taxpayer rights, ultimately enacting the provisions of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights into law in 2015. As a separate matter, Congress has given the IRS more social benefits programs to administer, a line of work that differs markedly from traditional tax collection. Therefore, both to better protect taxpayer rights and to ensure the IRS recruits, hires and trains employees with the appropriate skill sets for its tax collection and benefits administration responsibilities, we continue to believe the IRS should revise its mission statement to explicitly acknowledge the foundational role of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in administering the tax laws and the IRS’s dual roles of tax collector and benefits administrator.
ADOPTED, PARTIALLY ADOPTED or NOT ADOPTED: Not Adopted
OPEN or CLOSED: Closed
DUE DATE FOR ACTION (if left open): N/A