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Jean A. Pawlow represents businesses and individuals on significant tax controversy matters. She previously served on the Firm's Management Committee and Finance Committee, and as chair of the Tax Controversy Practice. Read Jean Pawlow's full biography.

The October 2017 issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments has been published. This issue includes five articles that provide insight into US federal and international tax developments and trends across a range of industries, as well as strategies for navigating these complex issues.

Republican Leaders Release Tax Reform Framework
By David G. Noren Alexander Lee

M&A Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Alexander Lee, Alejandro Ruiz and Timothy S. Shuman

State and Local Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Peter L. Faber

Grecian Magnesite Mining v. Commissioner: Foreign Investor Not Subject to US Tax on Sale of Partnership Interest
Kristen E. Hazel, Sandra P. McGill and Susan O’Banion

The IRS Attacks Taxpayers’ Section 199 (Computer Software) Deductions
Kevin Spencer, Robin L. Greenhouse and Jean A. Pawlow


Read the full issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments

On May 1, 2017, the IRS issued FAQs concerning its recent practice of inviting IRS Examination Agents (Exam) into the Appeals discussion. The FAQs make clear that Exam will now be routinely invited to Appeals conferences. The release premises this procedural shift on perceived efficiencies of having Exam stay during the taxpayer’s rebuttal presentation. The FAQs explain, however, that settlement discussions with the taxpayer will be held without Exam present. This is an important clarification, and the FAQs explain that this new process is different from Rapid Appeals.

Practice Point: It is clear that diminishing resources have put substantial pressure on the Appeals process. In several recent Appeals sessions, Exam has been invited to stay for our clients’ rebuttal to Exam’s presentation. After the taxpayers’ presentation, Appeal tries to elicit a back-and-forth communication between the taxpayer and Exam, putatively to ensure that all of the relevant facts are developed and agreed upon. Exam typically has counsel at these Opening Conferences, which tends to make Exam more of an advocate as opposed to the traditional developer of the facts and of the IRS’s audit position. This two-way communication seems to be an attempt to morph the Appeals session into some type of mini-mediation akin to a FastTrack session. Taxpayers therefore must take care to plan their settlement strategy, as the line between development of the facts and discussion of the hazards can be blurry. While in some cases it might be useful to negotiate in the presence of the Exam team, we have found that more progress typically is made when Exam leaves the room.

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

In a letter dated November 4, 2016, IRS Chief of Appeals Kirsten Wielobob provided some clarification regarding the authority of the Appeals Team Case Leaders (ATCLs) to settle cases, revisions to IRM section 8.6.1.4.4 permitting other IRS employees to attend conferences, clarifications to conference practices, and revisions to how Appeals handles section 9100 relief determinations. After a month of speculation, of interest to most taxpayers and practitioners is the news that, although settlement authority will remain with the ATCLs, Appeals will revise its procedures to make it clear that an Appeals Manager must review a case prior to an ATCL finalizing a settlement. In an apparent attempt to thread the proverbial needle, the letter indicates that the Appeals Manager “will not be accepting or rejecting settlements,” but if the ATCL and Appeals manager “disagree about a settlement,” the next higher level manager supervising ATCL Operations will resolve any disagreement. Although this procedure is contemplated in IRM section 8.7.11.3.1  (03-16-2015), the letter suggests that there will in fact be a procedural shift. It remains to be seen whether, as some have feared, this will lead to increased delays in resolving cases.

IRS Appeals cases within the Large Business and International (LB&I) division that involve a significant number of issues, a significant amount of money, or highly complex issues are typically assigned to a “team” of IRS Appeals officers. The Appeals Team Case Leader (ATCL), however, has “complete control” of the case, is “independent” from the IRS Examination Team and, except for certain coordinated issues, has settlement authority for all work assigned to the Appeals team. See I.R.M. 8.7.11.2 (09-25-2013). Currently there are 35 ATCLs.

Rumors are rampant, however, that the IRS may soon eliminate the ATCL’s settlement authority and require review and approval of settlements by an Appeals Team Manager (ATM), of which there are only a handful. On September 22, 2016, at an annual conference sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service and the New York Chapter of the Tax Executives Institute, Reinhard Schmuck, an ATCL for Area 9 in New York, confirmed that the IRS is considering changes to ATCL’s settlement authority. He indicated that the review was initiated in response to a report filed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that determined that in a sample of penalty Appeals cases, the case files did not always support Appeals’ decisions to abate penalties as required by Appeals criteria. See TIGTA Report Number:  2015-10-059 to the Internal Revenue Service Chief of Appeals (July 30, 2015). He cautioned, however, that the IRS had not made any final decisions.

Attendees at the conference, including former Appeals Officers and practitioners, expressed dismay at the proposed change because the LB&I Appeals process, which has worked well and instilled confidence in taxpayers, is not broken. This change may be a devastating blow to resolution at Appeals, and may cause a chilling effect on seeking redress at Appeals before heading to court. What is the use of spending a significant amount of time and effort to negotiate at Appeals if the decision maker is not even part of the negotiations?

What can we expect if the rumors ring true:

(1) Additional delays at Appeals;

(2) Unhappy ATCLs and ATMs;

(3) Unfair and unreasoned settlements;

(4)  Increased assertion of penalties; and

(5) Taxpayers avoiding Appeals and an increase in tax litigation.

The new procedures were rumored to be effective October 1. We do not have confirmation of a change in policy, but once the rumors are confirmed, we will report back.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has revised the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) regarding Appeals Conferences.  Below is a summary of material changes to IRM 8.6.1, effective October 1, 2016:

  • The IRM was revised to reflect that most conferences in Appeals will be conducted by telephone.  The revision also provides guidance for when in-person conferences are appropriate (e.g., when there are substantial books and records to review that cannot be easily referenced with page numbers or indices, or when there are numerous conference participants that create a risk of an unauthorized disclosure or breach of confidentiality).
  • IRM 8.6.1.4.1.2, In-Person Conferences: Circuit Riding was added.  If the assigned Appeals employee is in a post of duty that conducts circuit riding, circuit riding will be permitted when the address of the taxpayer, representative or business (for business entities) is more than 100 miles from a customer-facing virtual conference site or 150 miles from the nearest Appeals Office.  Area Directors have the discretion to deviate from these mileage limitations.  Circuit riding will also be allowed if the nearest Appeals Office cannot take the case due to high inventories or lack of technical expertise, or if there is no convenient alternative.
  • Language was added in IRM 8.6.1.4.4 to state that Appeals has the discretion to invite Counsel and/or Compliance to the conference.  The IRM notes that the prohibition against ex parte communications must not be violated and references Rev. Proc. 2012-18.
  • The definition of a new issue was updated in IRM 8.6.1.6.1(2).  The IRM retains prior language stating that a new issue is a matter not raised during Compliance’s consideration and adds that any issue not raised by Compliance in the report (e.g., 30-Day Letter) or rebuttal and disputed by the taxpayer is a new issue.

The revised IRM 8.6.1 is available here.

Facebook is in a protracted battle with the IRS related to its off-shoring of IP to an Irish affiliate. Read more here. The IRS issued an administrative summons for the documents, and Facebook has refused to comply with the summons. The IRS is asking the court to enforce the summons and force Facebook to turn over the requested documents. The court agreed that on its face, the summons was issued for a legitimate purpose. Facebook will now have to tell the court why it refuses to turn over the documents. Review the court order here. Assumedly, Facebook is asserting that it is not required to disclose the requested materials based upon a claim of privilege. The case demonstrates that the IRS is aggressively seeking documents and information from taxpayers and their representatives in cases involving international tax issues.