Andy Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Emily Mussio recently authored an article for Law360 entitled, “A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand.” The article discusses the IRS’s contentious history in handling Code Section 199 and the taxpayers’ continued battle to claim the benefit – even after its recent repeal.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Law360, November 2018.

Presented below is our summary of significant IRS guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of August 27 – 31, 2018:

August 27, 2018: The IRS announced changes to its Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. We posted about the changes to CAP here.

August 28, 2018: In Notice 2018-70, the IRS announced that it will issue proposed regulations clarifying the definition of a “qualifying relative” for various purposes, including the new $500 credit for certain dependents.

August 30, 2018: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) completed its review of a proposal to remove parts of the Internal Revenue Code Section 385 regulations, which address the treatment of debt among members of an expanded affiliated group.

August 31, 2018: The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2018-58, which includes the current list of jurisdictions subject to reporting requirements for certain deposit interest paid to nonresident alien individuals.

August 31, 2018: The IRS published statistics regarding US source income payments to foreign persons reported on Form 1042-S.

August 31, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Kevin Hall in our DC office for this week’s roundup.

On August 27, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program will continue, with some modifications.  As we previously discussed, the IRS began an assessment of the CAP program in August 2016 to determine if any recalibration was needed.

CAP is an IRS program that seeks to identify and resolve tax issues through open, cooperative, and transparent interaction between the IRS and Large Business and International (LB&I) taxpayers prior to the filing of a return.  The goal of CAP is greater certainty of the treatment of tax positions sooner and with less administrative burden than conventional post-file audits.  The program began in 2005, and became permanent in 2011.  Several notable taxpayers publically disclose their involvement in the CAP program. Continue Reading IRS Announces That CAP Will Continue

A shrinking Internal Revenue Budget (IRS) budget has meant that fewer agents are available to make sure that the tax laws are being enforced. We have reported previously about how Congress has decreased the IRS’s budget.  In 2017, the audit rate fell to its lowest levels in 15 years because of a shrinking IRS budget and workforce. Indeed, your chance of being audited fell to 0.6% in 2017, the lowest rate since 2002. Similarly, tax collection levies fell 32% from the prior year, and the IRS filed 5% fewer liens year-over-year. Detailed information from the IRS can be found here.

Practice Point. The decreased funding of the IRS in the wake of bipartisan disagreements seems to have quelled in recent weeks. We have seen movement to get the IRS more funding in the wake of tax reform but it remains to be seen whether some of those funds will be used to increase the enforcement functions of the IRS. We anticipate, however, an increase in enforcement activity as a result of some of the positions taken by taxpayers in anticipation of tax reform and the myriad of interpretive questions that are expected to result from the new tax laws.

On March 13, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will begin ramping down the current Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and urged taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets to apply for the program prior to its close on September 28, 2018. We have previously reported on developments in the OVDP.

Access the full article. 

Faced with the prospect of potential tax liability after an unsuccessful audit, taxpayers are faced with the options of filing a petition in the US Tax Court (Tax Court) prior to paying the liability or paying the liability, making a claim for refund, and (if denied or more than six months have passed) suing the government for a refund in local district court or the Court of Federal Claims. For taxpayers that select the Tax Court route, sometimes a question later arises as to whether they can seek to dismiss their case in order to refile in a different forum. The problem that arises is that Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7459(d) provides that if a Tax Court petition in a deficiency proceeding is dismissed (other than for lack of jurisdiction), the dismissal is considered as a decision that the deficiency is the amount determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Taxpayers have attempted to avoid this rule in the past, presumably so that they could refile a lawsuit in another forum either because they believe that forum would be more favorable or because they desire a jury trial (Tax Court cases are bench trial; no juries are allowed). More than 40 years ago, the Tax Court rejected this tactic in Estate of Ming v. Commissioner, 62 TC 519 (1974),  holding that under Code Section 7459(d), a taxpayer who petitions the court for a redetermination of a deficiency may not withdraw a petition to avoid the entry of decision. Specifically, the court held: “It is now a settled principle that a taxpayer may not unilaterally oust the Tax Court from jurisdiction which, once invoked, remains unimpaired until it decides the controversy.” Since Ming, the Tax Court has distinguished its holding in collection due process cases which involve the review of the IRS’s collection action, not the redetermination of a tax deficiency. See Wagner v. Commissioner, 118 TC 330 (2002). The Tax Court has further extended Wagner to non-deficiency cases involving whistleblower claims under Code Section 7623(b)(4) and stand-alone innocent spouse cases under Code Section 6015(e)(1). See Jacobson v. Commissioner, 148 TC No. 4 (Feb. 8, 2017); Davidson v. Commissioner, 144 TC 273 (2015). Continue Reading When Can a Taxpayer Dismiss a Tax Court Case as Moot?

The Internal Revenue Service Office of Appeals (IRS Appeals) recently announced that it will offer a new virtual “face-to-face” option in the form of web-based communication to taxpayers and representatives to resolve tax disputes. IRS Office of Appeals Pilots Virtual Service, IRS (July 24, 2017. This announcement comes on the heels of other changes at IRS Appeals that curtail the ability of taxpayers to have face-to-face hearings with IRS Appeals. The IRS cites the need for the new service because of IRS Appeals’ large (and growing) case load—more than 100,000 cases each year! For some our prior coverage on recent changes at IRS Appeals, see here, here, here and here.

Practice Point: In the wake of an ever-shrinking budget, resources and staff, the IRS really has no choice but to try new and arguably more efficient methods to move cases along. The backlog of cases at IRS Appeals is staggering, and our clients are experiencing long wait times until a case is even assigned to an IRS Appeals officer. Then when the case is assigned, it typically sits for months until real progress can be made. This is not the fault of the IRS or the individual Appeals’ officers, but really the reality of a resource-starved governmental agency. The virtual appeals conference is seemingly a good method to conduct an Appeals conference for simple cases. If a case is complex, however, a virtual conference may be no different (or no more effective) than a telephonic conference. In cases that require extensive explanation, it is hard to see how the IRS Appeals conference will be effectively conducted virtually. But “hope springs eternal.”

Not only should companies worry about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) auditing their returns, but they also have to be aware of a potential assault from within. Indeed, current and former employees have an incentive to air all of your tax issues with the hope of being rewarded for the information.

Section 7623(b) was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in 2005, and pays potentially large monetary rewards for so-called tax whistleblowers. To qualify for remuneration, a whistleblower must meet several conditions to qualify for the Section 7623(b) award program: (1) submit the confidential information under penalties of perjury to the IRS’s Whistleblower Office; (2) the information must relate to a tax issue for which the taxpayer (if the IRS found out) would be liable for tax, penalties and/or interest of more than $2 million; and (3) involve a taxpayer whose gross income exceeds $200,000 the tax year at issue. If the information substantially contributes to an administrative or judicial action that results in the collection, the IRS will pay an award of at least 15 percent, but not more than 30 percent of the collected proceeds resulting from the administrative or judicial action (including related actions).

Section 7623(b) has spawned a collection of law firms around the country dedicated to signing up scores of whistleblowers who are hoping to cash in big! Our clients routinely ask us how to best protect themselves. We typically tell our clients that the best defense is a good offense. Consider the following:

  1. Use of non-disclosure agreements with employees who work on sensitive projects like mergers and acquisitions;
  2. Limit employee access to the companies tax accrual workpapers and other documents that indicate the tax savings involved in a transaction or a position claimed on a return;
  3. Review your procedures to ensure that privilege and confidentiality is maintained (this would include training employees and managers);
  4. Review company’s internal procedures for employee complaints to ensure that you have robust procedures in place that offer an independent review and allow for anonymous submissions; and
  5. Be vigilant, and look for signs that an employee is “disgruntled.”

Practice Point: If you are under examination by the IRS, you may be able to discern a whistleblower issue based on the questions being asked by the IRS and whether those questions could only be formed based on information provided by a whistleblower. If this situation exists, it is important to determine whether you should raise the issue with the IRS, particularly if you believe that any confidential and/or privileged information has been provided to the IRS without your consent. To make sure you are protected and adequately prepared, consult with your tax controversy lawyer.

Today, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2017-25 extending the Fast Track Settlement (FTS) program to Small Business / Self Employed (SB/SE) taxpayers.  The IRS’s SB/SE group serves individuals filing Form 1040 (US Individual Income Tax Return), Schedules C, E, F or Form 2106 (Employee Business Expenses), and businesses with assets under $10 million.

FTS offers a customer-driven approach to resolving tax disputes at the earliest possible stage in the examination process. The program provides an independent IRS Appeals review of the dispute.  Under this approach, the IRS Appeals Officer acts as the mediator and has settlement authority.

The purpose of the program is to reduce the time to resolve cases and to provide the IRS Exam Team with the authority to settle cases based on hazards of litigation (which is generally reserved for IRS Appeals Officers).  FTS has been considered a great success by the IRS and many taxpayers.  The expansion of this successful alternative dispute resolution makes sense in light of the ever-shrinking resources of the IRS.

In its annual report to the US Congress, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) had a lot to say about IRS Appeals and the (lack of) use of other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques. In this post, we will highlight what the TAS had to say in this area.

IRS Appeals

Undoubtedly, one of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) most successful dispute resolution techniques has been IRS Appeals. Briefly, after the IRS’s Examination Division proposes a tax adjustment, taxpayers have the statutory right to seek an “appeal” of the decision. IRS Appeals is a separate and seemingly independent division of the IRS where one or more appeals officers review the redeterminations and adjustments made by the Examination Division, and attempt to settle the dispute directly with the taxpayer based upon a “hazards of litigation” analysis, much in the same manner as a judge would rule. The TAS acknowledged the success and utility of the IRS Appeals program and mission, but requested that Congress expand the program, giving the IRS the resources it needs to manifest the full intent of the program.

The TAS reported that funding for IRS Appeals has diminished sharply—by about 11 percent from 2013 to 2016, with staff reduced during the same period by 24 percent. In response to shrinking resources, but hobbled by the same duties and similar case load, IRS Appeals has been forced to implement procedures and policies that hamper its long-term mission of providing a fair and impartial review of the Examination Division’s adjustments. The TAS pointed out that these policies have resulted in (1) creating an inhospitable Appeals environment; (2) limiting in-person Appeals conferences; (3) reducing the Appeals officer’s ability to perform a quality substantive review; and (4) failing to protect the rights of taxpayers when conducting collection Appeals hearings. The TAS noted that there has been a large increase of cases docketed in the US Tax Court before seeking an IRS appeal. The TAS believes that docketing a case before it goes to Appeals has added inefficiency and unnecessarily increased the case load of the Tax Court.

The TAS suggested the following solutions:

  1. Expand the locations in which Appeals Officers hear matters. Presently, there are numerous states in which there are no IRS appeals officers. As a result, taxpayers who seek an appeal and request an in-person conference are forced to travel to the states in which an IRS appeals officer is located.
  2. Hold more in-person appeals conferences. The TAS report argues that in-person conferences facilitate the efficient and expeditious settlement of matters.
  3. Revise procedures and policies to allow IRS appeals officers additional discretion and time to undertake factual development and provide more substantive review of matters.

Practice point: We have recently reported about many of the issues facing taxpayers seeking review by IRS Appeals. The TAS confirms our critiques of the system. IRS Appeals is a very good and useful technique that has a high probability of settling cases. Generally, appeals officers are thoughtful and engaged; however, the lack of resources has put tremendous pressure on an already overworked and under supported system. It makes little sense that Congress would gut the revenue-collecting arm of the federal government. Practitioners and taxpayers alike would applaud the implementation of the recommendations in the TAS report. Indeed, many of the appeals officers themselves, overworked and stripped of their discretion, would likewise support these considerations.

ADR

There is no question that certain ADR programs produce substantial benefits for governments, and assist in the efficient resolution of controversy matters. The IRS has several ADR methods that it employs, for example fast track settlement and post appeals mediation.The TAS acknowledges the substantial benefits of the IRS’s ADR programs, but suggests that these programs need to be expanded and tweaked to fix real and perceived problems.

The IRS offers four types of ADR techniques: fast track settlement (FTS), fast track mediation for collection matters (FTM), post appeals mediation (PAM), and the rapid appeals process. The TAS reports that these ADR techniques accounted for only 306 cases in fiscal year 2017! Of these 306 cases, 251 were actually resolved through settlement. And the trend over the last three years has been a steady decline in ADR cases. TAS explains that one of the problems with the IRS’s ADR program is that it is only available if the IRS agrees to participate. Another cited problem is the perception among taxpayers that the process is rigged in favor of the IRS, as the presiding officers are IRS employees. When ADR is used in a commercial context, for example in collecting a debt, the facilitators are typically third-party neutral, professionals. In the IRS’s case, the ADR facilitators are IRS appeals officers who are not specifically dedicated to the ADR process, but have normal Appeals cases in addition to ADR cases.

In its report, the TAS makes several good suggestions, including the following points:

  1. Expand ADR. Make it more available, and remove the IRS’s discretion to resolve controversies through ADR. The TAS believes that ADR should be available to all taxpayers. Publicize and encourage taxpayers to engage in ADR with the IRS instead of following the traditional appeals path. In an effort to demonstrate the efficacy of the program, the IRS should maintain and publish statistics on its ADR program.
  2. Independent ADR specialists. The TAS suggests that the IRS have a team of professionals trained and dedicated to ADR. This would increase the public’s trust in the programs.

Practice point: In the last several years, the benefits of seeking resolution under the IRS’s ADR programs have been waning. From experience, the IRS seems to now give only lip service to these programs. The TAS’s suggestions are right on target. A team of dedicated and truly independent ADR professionals could have a profound effect on the system and the number of case both at the IRS and in the courts. The IRS should devote the resources necessary to make this vision a reality and embrace the techniques long used by businesses (think debt collection) and the courts. Indeed, in nearly every court system in the country litigants are required (or at least strongly encouraged) to engage in some sort of ADR prior to seeking redress before the court. If ADR is good enough for the courts, why hasn’t the IRS embraced this tried and tested dispute resolution technique?