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.

In October 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revised the Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) 8.6.1.4.4 to provide IRS Appeals Division (Appeals) with discretion to invite representatives from the IRS Examination Division (Exam) and IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) to the Appeals conference. Many tax practitioners opposed this change, believing that it undermines the independence of Appeals and may lead to a breakdown in the settlement process.

In May 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation submitted comments recommending the reinstatement of the long-standing Manual provision regarding the limited circumstances for attendance by representatives from Exam and Counsel at settlement conferences. Additionally, the Tax Section’s comments were critical of the practice whereby some Appeals Team Case Leaders (ATCLs) in traditional Appeals cases are “strongly encouraging” IRS Exam and the taxpayer to conduct settlement negotiations similar to Rapid Appeals or Fast Track Settlement, such that many taxpayers do not feel they can decline such overtures. The Tax Section comments suggested that the use of Rapid Appeals Process and Fast Track Settlement should be a voluntary decision of both the taxpayer and IRS Exam and the use of these processes should be the exception rather than the rule. Continue Reading Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism