The IRS’s Assault on Section 199 (Computer Software) Doesn’t Compute

Internal Revenue Code Section 199 permits taxpayers to claim a 9 percent deduction related to the costs to develop software within the U.S. The relevant regulations and their interpretation, however, place substantial restrictions on claiming the benefit.

Moreover, the regulations and the government’s position haven’t kept up with the technological advances in computer software.

Before claiming the deduction on your return, consider that the Internal Revenue Service has this issue within its sights, and perhaps it will be the subject of one of their new “campaigns.”

In 2004, Congress enacted I.R.C. Section 199 to tip the scales of global competitiveness more in favor of American business. The main motivation of the statute was to create jobs by encouraging businesses to manufacture and produce their products in the U.S. The tax benefit, however, isn’t available for services, a theme that pervades many of the provisions in the statute and regulations.

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Originally published in Bloomberg BNA Daily Tax Report – April 24, 2017 – Number 77

Overview of Tax Litigation Forums

Taxpayers can choose whether to litigate tax disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US Tax Court (Tax Court), federal district court or the Court of Federal Claims. Claims brought in federal district court and the Court of Federal Claims are tax refund litigation: the taxpayer must first pay the tax, file a claim for refund, and file a complaint against the United States if the claim is not allowed. Claims brought in the Tax Court are deficiency cases: the taxpayer can file a petition against the IRS Commissioner after receiving a notice of deficiency and does not need to pay the tax beforehand.

As demonstrated in the chart below, approximately 97 percent of tax claims are instituted in the Tax Court. It should be noted that, after a taxpayer files a petition in Tax Court, the taxpayer no longer has the option of bringing the claim in any other court for the year(s) at issue.

Tax Court Versus Tax Refund Litigation

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APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Requests Supreme Court Review

On April 4, 2017, QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) does not apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notices of Deficiency. We previously wrote about the case (QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 15-2192) here, here, here and here. To refresh, the taxpayer had argued in the US Tax Court that the Notice of Deficiency issued by the IRS, which contained a one-sentence reason for the deficiency determination, violated the APA because it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The APA provides a general rule that a reviewing court that is subject to the APA must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action unwarranted by the facts to the extent the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court. The Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA and holding that the Notice of Deficiency adequately notified the taxpayer that a deficiency had been determined under relevant case law. The taxpayer appealed to the 4th Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the Tax Court’s decision. Continue Reading

Understanding LB&I “Campaigns” – The Second Webinar

On March 28, 2017, EY and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) held a joint webcast presenting the Large Business & International’s (LB&I) new “Campaign” examination process. This was the IRS’s second in a planned eight-part series about Campaigns. The IRS speakers for the presentation were Tina Meaux (Assistant Deputy Commissioner Compliance Integration) and Kathy Robbins (Enterprise Activity Practice Area). We previously blogged about Campaigns on February 1, 2017 (link), and the first Campaigns webinar on March 8, 2017 (link).

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IRS is Required to Search Tax Return Information Records to Help Determine Worker Classification

On April 5, 2017, in an unanimous court reviewed opinion, the United States Tax Court determined that disclosure of a worker’s tax return information to absolve the employer from liabilities arising out of the employer’s withholding requirement is not subject to the general prohibition against disclosing taxpayer return information pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6103, and does not shift the burden of proof to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. 11 (2017), the IRS determined that a number of the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s workers were not independent contractors, but employees. If the IRS prevailed in its worker reclassification determination then, as the employer, the Mescalero Apache Tribe would be jointly and severally liable for Federal income tax that should have been withheld on the workers’ earnings. To prevent double taxation, IRC Section 3402(d) provides that the IRS cannot collect from the employer the withholding tax liability if the employees have already paid income tax on their earnings. To prove its position that the workers were independent contractors and alternatively to reduce any potential withholding tax liability if the workers were classified as employees, the Mescalero Apache Tribe asked each worker to complete Form 4669, Statement of Payments Received. However, the Mescalero Apache Tribe had trouble locating each of its workers because many had moved or lived in hard-to-reach areas without phone service or basic utilities. Continue Reading

Santander Holdings USA Asks the Supreme Court to Address Economic Substance Doctrine

From 2003 to 2007, Sovereign Bancorp, Inc. (Sovereign) – now known as Santander Holdings USA, Inc. (Santander) – engaged in a so-called STARS transaction with Barclays Bank. According to Santander, “[b]y engaging in the STARS transaction, Sovereign transferred some of its income tax liability from the United States to the United Kingdom,” it “secured a loan of $1.15 billion,” and it received a payment “which effectively reduced its lending costs.” On its Federal corporate income tax returns for those years, Sovereign claimed foreign tax credits (FTCs) for UK taxes it paid in connection with the STARS transaction. It also claimed deductions for the interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan.

In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a Notice of Deficiency disallowing Sovereign’s FTCs and its deductions for interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan. The IRS did not challenge Sovereign’s compliance with the statutory and regulatory rules governing FTCs, instead arguing that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance.” Sovereign paid the deficiency and sued for a refund in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. When the district court held for Sovereign on both issues, the IRS appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but only with respect to the FTC issue. The crux of the issue was how to treat the UK taxes and the related FTCs for purposes of the “economic substance” analysis. Relying on Salem Financial, Inc. v. U.S., 786 F.3d 932 (Fed. Cir. 2015), and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. v. Comm’r, 801 F.3d 104 (2d Cir. 2015), the IRS argued that the UK taxes should be treated as an expense but that the related FTCs should be ignored in determining pre-tax profit. Citing IES Indus., Inc. v. U.S., 253 F.3d 350 (8th Cir. 2001), and Compaq Computer Corp. v. Comm’r, 277 F.3d 778 (5th Cir. 2001), Sovereign argued that either both should be included in the profit analysis or both should be ignored. The First Circuit held that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance,” and upheld the disallowance of the FTCs at issue. In doing so, it treated the UK taxes as expenses that reduced pre-tax profit and ignored the related FTCs, following the Federal and Second Circuit’s approach. Santander Holdings USA, Inc. v. U.S., 844 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 2016).

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Taxpayer Advocate Questions IRS CID’s Narrow Reading of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights

On March 30, 2017, the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) published a report identifying numerous violations of taxpayer rights from 2012 to 2014 by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS CID) in structuring cases. TIGTA examined over 300 investigations for structuring in this time period and identified 21 cases in which taxpayer rights had been compromised.

The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) requires US financial institutions to file reports of currency transactions exceeding $10,000. A provision of the BSA, 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a), prohibits structuring, that is, setting up a transaction for the purpose of evading this reporting requirement. Violations of the law can result in fines, imprisonment and asset forfeiture. This law is administered by the US Department of the Treasury, and one of its major goals is to monitor traffic in illegal-source funds (i.e., funds used in drug transactions or to support terrorism). Continue Reading

Tax Court Holds Section 883 Regulations Valid under Chevron Test

On March 28, 2017, the US Tax Court issued its opinion in Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 10, upholding the validity of regulations issued under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 883.

Code Section 887(a) imposes a four percent tax on a foreign corporation’s US-source gross transportation income for each year. Code Section 883(c)(1) exempts from US tax a foreign corporation’s gross income from the international operation of ships if the foreign country in which the corporation is organized grants an equivalent exemption to corporations organized in the United States. Code Section 883(c)(1) provides that this exemption does not apply if 50 percent or more of the value of a foreign corporation’s stock is owned, directly or indirectly, by individuals who are not residents of a foreign country that grants an equivalent exemption to US corporations. Regulations issued under Section 883 provide that ownership through shares of a foreign corporation issued in bearer form is disregarded in determining whether the corporation passes the 50 percent or more test (Ownership Regulations).

The taxpayer in Good Fortune Shipping challenged the validity of the Ownership Regulations. It based its challenge on its claim that the Ownership Regulations do not satisfy the two prongs of the test under Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). This argument, in turn, was based primarily—if not exclusively—on the taxpayer’s assertion that US Congress had left no “gap” in Code Section 883 for US Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to fill; this is because the operative term “own” that appears in the statute has a common, ordinary meaning such that further interpretation by the IRS is not necessary. Thus, the taxpayer argued, the Ownership Regulations fail step one of the Chevron analysis. Continue Reading

Acting IRS Chief Counsel appoints new Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations)

The Acting Chief Counsel announced that effective April 1, 2017, Drita Tonuzi will serve as the Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations), in Washington DC.  In this position, Ms. Tonuzi will provide legal guidance and litigation support to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Departments of Treasury and Justice in all matters pertaining to the administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws.  This includes responsibility for all litigation in the United States Tax Court as well as the management of personnel in fifty field offices nationwide and in headquarters operations in Washington, DC. She will directly supervises nine Divisions including Large Business and International (LB&I), Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE), Tax Exempt and Governmental Entities (TEGEDC), Wage and Investment (W&I), General Legal Services (GLS), Criminal Tax (CT), Procedure and Administration (P&A), Finance and Management (F&M) and Counsel to the National Taxpayer Advocate (CNTA).

Ms. Tonuzi began her career with the Office of Chief Counsel in 1987 in the Manhattan Office, where she litigated cases before the United States Tax Court. She served as the Securities & Financial Services Firms Industry Counsel and managed a group of attorneys, Deputy Division Counsel for the Large Business & International Division (formerly LMSB), where she was responsible for the operation and litigation of the organization and most recently she served as Associate Chief Counsel Practice and Administration.

With Ms. Tonuzi’s promotion, Kathryn Zuba has been appointed as the Acting Associate Chief Counsel, Procedure and Administration. Ms. Zuba will head an office of more than 150 professionals, who provide legal services to the IRS, other components of the Chief Counsel’s Office, other government agencies, and the public in the areas of federal tax procedure and administration. The responsibilities of this office include matters relating to the reporting and payment of taxes; assessment and collection of taxes; the abatement, credit or refund of over-assessments or overpayments of taxes; the filing of information returns; bankruptcy; disclosure; FOIA; privacy law; litigation sanctions; judicial doctrines; ethics; and liaison with the courts.

Taxpayer Rights Around the World (Part 2)

We previously posted on Day One of the 2nd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Vienna, Austria. Below, we summarize the panels and issues discussed on Day Two.

Four panels were held on March 14: (1) Penalties and General Anti-Avoidance Rules; (2) The Role of Intergovernmental Actors in Furthering and Protecting Taxpayer Rights: A Conversation; (3) Building Trust I: Transforming Cultures of Tax Agencies; and (4) Building Trust II: Safeguards on Tax Agency Power.

Penalties and General Anti-Avoidance Rules

This panel looked at current research on the use of penalties and general anti-avoidance rules in tax administration from the perspectives of legal and economic theory and taxpayer behavior. Studies were discussed that found that delayed feedback on tax audit often results in increased tax compliance but reduces the perception of procedural fairness and diminishes trust in the taxing authorities. Participants in the studies viewed receiving delayed feedback and increasing the probability of audits and the potential for more fines. One conclusion presented was that the delay resulted in longer periods of uncertainty and may yield higher levels of honesty in the short term, but might undermine tax compliance in the long term. Continue Reading

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