For the Press

Tax Analysts Hosts Conference on Proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights

March 31, 2014

Discussion focuses on bill implementation likelihood and challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides tax news and analyses, hosted a conference Thursday, March 27 at the Ronald Reagan Building at which a panel of tax policy experts discussed the IRS's need to adopt a taxpayer bill of rights and the challenges of moving such a bill through Congress.

The panel discussion, which was moderated by Tax Analysts President and Publisher Christopher E. Bergin, included presentations by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson; Christopher S. Rizek, a member at Caplin & Drysdale; and Alan J. Wilensky, an attorney and former Treasury deputy and acting assistant secretary for tax policy.

The speakers focused their discussion on Olson's proposal to implement a bill of rights that would give IRS employees and the public a shared understanding of how taxpayers should be treated by their tax authorities. Olson's proposed rights include the right to be informed, the right to quality service, and the right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax.

"The theme that we have for the taxpayer bill of rights is [that] it is your foundation for effective tax administration," Olson said. "Congress needs to have this so that it can hold the commissioner responsible for running an agency in conformity to these foundational rights."

"People are very concerned that they're not going to get a fair appeal [that goes beyond] just a repetition of the Service's position," Rizek said. "You've got to have some sort of remedy to fix that, and merely having a lovely bill of rights that says you should have this doesn't mean anything if there isn't a commitment within the organization to change it and some enforcement mechanism."

Regarding funding, Bergin said, "Most of the comments that I get are 'Why would we give this agency any more money when it squanders its money?'" He said that the agency's court fight against Tax Analysts' Freedom of Information Act request for training materials from the exempt organizations determinations office showed a penchant for wasting funds. "And so I've got to concede a bit of their point. How do we overcome that?" he said.

Wilensky, who served under Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady in the George H.W. Bush administration, said he supports Olson's proposal but that the political environment matters.
"I think depoliticizing the process is important," he said. Although Brady ran an apolitical Treasury Department, that changed under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, he said.

Read more about the conference here and watch the video.