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The State of the IRS

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It was a tough summer for our friends at the IRS. Still reeling from the much-criticized audit program focusing on conservative tax exempt groups, two sequestration-required furlough days, and the scandal stemming from a discovery that several IRS employees were using their government-issued credit cards to purchase pornography, wine and kazoos, morale remains low throughout all divisions and functions of the Service. According to a former colleague of mine at the IRS Chief Counsel Office, the mood oscillates between indifferent resignation and outright anger directed at the senior executives and congressional representatives responsible for the current state of affairs. Recently it was reported that IRS Chief Danny Werfel wanted to cancel all cash bonuses payable to IRS employees at the end of this fiscal year.

Life has never been easy for the Tax Collector. Revenue Officers deal every day with taxpayers who run the gamut from serial liars trying to hide assets to unemployed debtors who can’t pay the rent, let alone make their monthly installment payments to the Service. Auditors consistently encounter unethical representatives who stonewall, delay and even misrepresent in order to get their clients an advantage or break that justifies their excessive fees. And it has always been politically beneficial for our elected representatives to scapegoat the IRS and its bloated bureaucracy, relying heavily on the agency’s inability to defend itself publicly in particular cases because of the comprehensive anti-disclosure laws passed by those same representatives.

But, in the twenty-five years I have been practicing tax controversy law, I have never observed a more disenchanted civil service. This is absolutely not a good thing. Not for the agency. Not for representatives. And especially not for taxpayers.

An unhappy, victimized government employee does not perform his duties with the even-handed and objective perspective we demand from him. An IRS clerk who suffers occupational criticism and humiliation when she purchase groceries, attends her child’s school play, or joins her neighbors for a barbecue does not return to work wanting to do the right thing for taxpayers.

So, as we begin the new season, can we try and have just a little empathy and understanding for our friends at the IRS, doing a very difficult job, during a very difficult time? A little positivity will benefit all of us.

Back with more next month...

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