Koskinen Discusses Taxpayer Service, Return Preparers at NATP Event

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen spoke on August 8 at the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) National Conference in Washington, D.C. During the event, Koskinen discussed his tenure as head of the Service, his push for IRS authority to regulate practitioners and the budget appropriations process.

“I’ve spent my term as commissioner trying to make Congress and the public realize that the tax filing season doesn’t happen automatically or by accident,” Koskinen said. “It happens because our employees spend months beforehand preparing for it, and then making sure it goes smoothly.”

Taxpayer Services

Koskinen responded to audience members who expressed concerns regarding IRS taxpayer services. He noted that a lack of resources is largely to blame for IRS shortcomings in taxpayer service.

“I warned Congress that if we continued to get budget cuts, our level of service would go down to an unacceptable level,” Koskinen said. “I told Congress that it’s a simple algorithm—if we have the money, we hire people and they answer the phone; if we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people, and we don’t answer the phone enough.”

Congress did allocate an additional $290 million in funding for taxpayer services in 2016 and 2017 (TAXDAY, 2017/05/03, C.3), which Koskinen noted. He noted that the average wait time for people calling the IRS’s direct number during the 2017 filing season was eight minutes. The audience, however, did not agree with the assertion, as Koskinen observed, commenting on their apparent “disbelief.”

“If we ever got enough money to hire enough people, our goal is you shouldn’t have to wait more than a minute, or two minutes at max, to get through,” Koskinen said. These wait times would equate to the IRS having a level of service in the low to mid 80-percent rage, he added.

Although the IRS has been able to get to around 73-percent level of taxpayer service with the additional funding, it is still significantly below where the IRS would like to be, according to Koskinen. “Those delays are not acceptable—and, at some point, my hope is that Congress will come to recognize that.”

Return Preparer Minimum Standards

Koskinen also spoke of the important role return preparers play in the filing process, and he reiterated the IRS’s goal to have the authority to require a certain set of standards for each preparer. “The IRS has been pushing for several years to ensure every tax return preparer has minimum qualifications,” he said.

According to Koskinen, there are hundreds of thousands of people who prepare tax returns each year with no qualifications. “We need to make sure these preparers have a basic level of competency and stay on top of what’s new in tax law and regulation, so they can serve their clients well.” The IRS will continue to urge Congress to grant the Service authority to require minimum standards for return preparers, he added.

By Jessica Jeane, Wolters Kluwer News Staff

Prepared Remarks of IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen Before the National Association of Tax Professionals

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