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More Changes to IRS Appeals’ Practices?

We have previously commented on changes at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals Division, including: (1) the allowance of Appeals to invite representatives from the IRS Examination Division (Exam) and IRS Office of Chief Counsel to the Appeals conference, (2) the limitations on in-person conferences, and (3) the use of “virtual” conferences.

IRS Appeals Chief Donna Hansberry discussed these changes at a recent tax law conference held by the Federal Bar Association. According to reports, Ms. Hansberry wants feedback from practitioners on the compliance attendance and virtual conferences. (more…)




TIGTA Report: FOIA Procedures Need Improvement

On September 7, 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report about the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures. After reviewing a statistically valid sample of FOIA requests, TIGTA concluded that the IRS improperly withheld information 14.3 percent of the time—or approximately 1 in 7 FOIA requests.

TIGTA also found that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, there were 334 backlogged information requests. Below is a chart from the report showing the IRS’s recent history of backlogged FOIA requests.

TIGTA’s findings are consistent with our experiences with FOIA requests. It is not unusual for the IRS to make repeated requests for extensions to respond. We note further that, during an examination, the IRS is statutorily authorized to provide taxpayers access to their administrative file. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Manual confirms this at section 4.2.5.7 (June 15, 2017). Yet the IRS examination team often requires a FOIA request.

Practice Point 1: As a result of the IRS’s FOIA backlog, some taxpayers have resorted to filing lawsuits in federal district court to enforce their FOIA rights. Because the IRS must respond to court deadlines, taxpayers are sometimes able to force a more expedient response and move to the front of the response line.

Practice Point 2: Taxpayers should attempt to tailor their FOIA requests, only requesting the information in which they are interested. In theory, this could make the IRS’s job easier and, in turn, responses more timely.

Practice Point 3: If taxpayers intend to seek information from the government through the FOIA process, they should do so as soon as possible (e.g., at the beginning of the examination process) so that they may get the information in time to be useful.




IRS Appeals – Changes Afoot?

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.




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