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IRS Official Provides Update on Large Partnership Compliance Audits

Almost 11 months ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a memorandum regarding the implementation of the Large Partnership Compliance (LPC) Pilot Program, including the identification, selecting and delivery of large partnership tax returns, exam procedures and feedback. The goal of the LPC program is to identify the largest partnership cases and develop improved methods for identifying and assessing the compliance risks presented by these taxpayers. Large partnerships include those with more than $10 million in assets, and such partnerships are subject to data analytics and classification processes. Audits of these large partnerships are conducted by the Large Business & International (LB&I) division.

The LPC program was discussed at the recent Tax Executives Institute conference in New York. IRS officials noted that 50 large partnerships have been selected for the first round of audits, focusing on the 2019 tax year. The IRS currently is undecided as to whether LB&I plans to audit subsequent year returns for the selected partnerships, but likely will not subject such partnerships to a continuous audit process that is used for many large corporate taxpayers.

An interesting discussion took place at the conference related to whether IRS revenue agents will share with the selected partnerships the risk level assigned to their partnership return and which issues will be examined. (Risk assessment and identification of issues are generally included in audit plans for corporate taxpayers, although the level of risk may not necessarily be disclosed.) Currently, some agents are providing such information to selected partnerships but there is no consensus or standard practice at the audit level.

Practice Point: The IRS has made it well known that large partnerships are on their radar and there is a need to focus on these audits to ensure taxpayer compliance. In our experience, revenue agents tend to be more transparent in audits of large taxpayers when it comes to the issues under examination, but it would be a welcome development if the IRS announced at the outset of the audit more standard procedures for informing taxpayers of the risk levels assigned. As the LPC program continues, we are hopeful that the IRS will decide to share more data with the public. We expect an increase in audit activity as a result of additional funding received by the IRS, and it appears that the IRS will focus those efforts on large partnerships.




Extending the Statute of Limitations for Assessing Federal Tax

We previously provided an overview of the time limits imposed on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for assessing federal tax. The general rule is that the IRS must assess tax within three years from the later of the due date of the original tax return or the date it was filed. If the IRS does not assess tax during this period, it is foreclosed from doing so in the future. Note that the filing of an amended return does not restart or extend the limitations period. There are numerous exceptions to this rule, including if there is a substantial omission of income, fraud, failure to file a return, extension by agreement and failure to provide certain information regarding foreign transactions. We discussed many of these exceptions in Seeking Closure on Tax Positions: A Look at Tax Statutes of Limitation and Omitted Subpart F and GILTI Income May Be a Statute of Limitations Trap for the Unwary. Below, we discuss the rules and considerations for consenting to extending the time to assess federal tax.

Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6501(c)(4) provides that, except in the case of estate taxes, taxpayers (or their duly authorized representative) and the IRS may consent in writing to an extension of the limitations period for assessment. Importantly, such an agreement must be executed before the limitations period expires. In other words, assuming no other exception applies to the general three-year rule, an agreement to extend the limitations must be executed within the later of three years from the date the tax return was due or filed. If executed after that date, the consent is invalid. Thus, a late-filed consent cannot revive an otherwise closed limitations period. Under Code Section 6511(c), extending the statute of limitations on assessment also extends the period for filing a claim for credit or refund to six months after the expiration of the extended assessment period.

Form 872, Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax, is generally used to effectuate an agreed extension to a certain date, however, other versions of the form may be used for different types of taxpayers or issues (e.g., Form 872-M, Consent to Extend the Time to Make Partnership Adjustments, is used for partners subject to the centralized partnership audit regime under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015). Form 872-A, Special Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax, may be used to extend the limitations period for an indefinite period (referred to as an Open-Ended Consent). An Open-Ended Consent ends 90 days after the mailing by the IRS of written notification of termination or receipt by the IRS of written notification of termination from the taxpayer (both actions are accomplished through the use of Form 872-T, Notice of Termination of Special Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax), or the mailing of a notice of deficiency. The IRS’s views on Open-Ended Consents are summarized in
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More Developments on IRS’s Real-Time Audit Program

We have previously discussed ongoing developments with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. In brief summary, CAP is a real-time audit program that seeks to resolve the tax treatment of all or most return issues before the tax return is filed. The CAP program began in 2005 on an invitation-only basis with 17 taxpayers, and was subsequently expanded to include pre-CAP, CAP and CAP Maintenance components. Taxpayers and IRS leadership generally praised the CAP program as one of the most successful corporate tax enforcement programs, with surveys showing that more than 90 percent of CAP taxpayers reported overall satisfaction with the program.

The fate of CAP has been uncertain in recent years given the IRS’s shift in the examination process to identifying and focusing on specific areas of risk and the continued dwindling of IRS resources. In 2016, we discussed whether this change might result in the death of the CAP program and the IRS’s announcement that it was formally assessing the program. In August of this year, the IRS announced that the CAP program will continue, with some modifications.

At a September 26 conference, the IRS indicated that it wanted to expand the CAP program, but that changes were needed to keep the program sustainable over the long term given issues with increased examination times for CAP audits based primarily on issues involving transfer pricing, research credits under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 41, and former Code Section 199. The IRS indicated that it needed to resolve two issues for the CAP program: (1) eligibility and (2) suitability. Regarding eligibility, the IRS indicated that only public companies will likely be allowed into the program. Regarding suitability, factors include: (1) responses to IRS information requests; (2) good-faith efforts to resolve issues; (3) disclosure of tax shelters, material items, investigation or litigation; (4) frequency of claims; and (5) complying with the terms of the program’s memorandum of understanding.

The IRS has also released a Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) Recalibration discussion document, dated September 28, 2018. The discussion document provides more detail on the IRS’s current thinking regarding the CAP program and the two issues identified above. The document indicates that no new applications will be accepted for 2019 but that the IRS expects to accept new application for the 2020 tax year. In addition to general application information, taxpayers with international cross-border activity and research and experimentation activities will be required to submit additional information.

Practice Point: Taxpayers that are currently in the CAP program or that are considering applying to the program should review the IRS’s recent discussion document to identify potential changes to the program and whether the program would be a good fit. For many taxpayers, the CAP program has been—or could be­—a great program for resolving tax disputes in a timely fashion and gaining finality on tax position at an early date. The [...]

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IRS Funding Woes Likely To Continue

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) yesterday released the fiscal 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which sets forth proposed annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Small Business Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other related agencies. The proposal will be considered in the subcommittee today. For text of the bill, see here.

In its press release, the HAC described the bill as one that would “slash the IRS, fund US courts, invest in programs to boost economic opportunity, and scale back harmful regulations.” See here for the press release. The HAC was particularly hard on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), proposing to cut its budget by $149 million. These cuts come after successive reductions in the IRS’s budget for the last several years. The draft legislation contains several provisions that the HAC believed necessary “to address underperformance and previous poor management and decision-making at the IRS,” including:

  • A prohibition on a proposed regulation related to political activities and the tax-exempt status of IRC section 501(c)(4) organizations. The proposed regulation could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of many nonprofit organizations, and inhibit citizens from exercising their right to freedom of speech;
  • A prohibition on funds for bonuses or to rehire former employees unless employee conduct and tax compliance is given consideration;
  • A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs;
  • A prohibition on funds for the IRS to target individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights;
  • A prohibition on funds for the production of inappropriate videos and conferences;
  • A new prohibition on funds to implement new IRS guidance on conservation easements;
  • A new prohibition on funds to determine church exemptions, unless the IRS Commissioner has consented and Congress has been notified; and
  • A requirement for extensive reporting on IRS spending and information technology.

Despite reducing the IRS’s overall budget, the draft legislation expressed a desire for funding to improve taxpayer services, including pre-filing assistance and education, filing and account services, and taxpayer advocacy services. For example, the IRS is directed to maintain an employee training program that includes “taxpayers’ rights, dealing courteously with taxpayers, cross-cultural relations, ethics, and the impartial application of tax law.” As we have previously discussed (see here and here), taxpayers’ right is a hot topic in both the US and around the world.

We will continue to monitor this matter and report back on the final budget in the future. Needless to say, reductions in the IRS’s budget will likely continue the trend of decreased enforcement activity and more uncertainty for taxpayers. Additionally, without additional resources and the imminent retirement of a large portion of IRS employees, the IRS will continue to be forced to operate in an environment of substantially decreased resources. On the front lines, we are seeing a substantial reduction in the numbers and breadth of audits of some of the nation’s largest taxpayers. Moreover, with the decrease [...]

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IRS Updates LB&I Examination Process Guide

Effective May 1, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin applying previously announced changes to the Large Business & International (LB&I) Division’s examination process.  Publication 5125 begins by setting forth expectations for the LB&I exam team and the taxpayer or its representatives.  It then addresses IRS expectations regarding refund claims.  Finally, the publication discusses the three stages of the LB&I examination process—planning, execution and resolution—and how the IRS and taxpayers should conduct themselves during each stage.

The IRS had previously released draft publication 5125 in November 2014, which concerned some taxpayers, particularly with respect to the statement that informal refund claims would only be accepted within 30 days of the opening conference.  Final Publication 5125 retains the 30-day period for making informal refund claims, but provides that LB&I will not require a formal claim after the 30-day period if an issue has been identified for examination (unless IRS published guidance specifically requires a formal claim).  Exceptions may also be granted by LB&I senior management.

Publication 5125 also made changes to the examination process based on the recent shift to an issue-based audit approach.  The case manager will have overall responsibility for the case, which may be beneficial to taxpayers involved in recent audits where domestic and international personnel appeared to share responsibility for the conduct of the audit.  Factual and issue development are also heavily stressed, with an emphasis on the information document request (IDR) process and a focused and useful examination plan.  The publication also states that IRS team members are expected to seek the taxpayer’s acknowledgment of the facts and to resolve any disputes prior to the issuance of Form 5701, Notice of Proposed Adjustment.

Taxpayers should review Publication 5125 to familiarize themselves with the current audit process and to ensure that IRS team members are following the guidance.  To the extent an IRS team member is not following the guidance, taxpayers should not hesitate to discuss the matter with the team manager.




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