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Special IRS Team Working to Identify Emerging “Abusive Transactions”

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the creation of a new Joint Strategic Emerging Issues Team (JSEIT). The new initiative, announced at the New York University School of Professional Studies Tax Controversy Forum in June, brings together different agency divisions and organizations to identify and address emerging tax compliance issues. Various divisions, such as the Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE), Large Business & International (LB&I), Tax Exempt/Government Entities (TE/GE) and Criminal Investigation divisions, will work together to bring each division’s expertise and specialties into one place to quickly address new issues that are brought to the IRS’s attention.

The goal of JSEIT is to help taxpayers with compliance issues and message them about which transactions work or do not work from a compliance perspective. The purpose of JSEIT is to act as a communication vehicle to identify areas that should be looked at in more detail by the various IRS divisions. In this vein, JSEIT seeks to provide messaging to taxpayers on emerging issues so that they are informed early on as to how the IRS views a particular transaction. JSEIT is not focused on transactions the IRS has already deemed abusive (e.g., certain syndicated conservations easements and micro-captive insurance transactions) but seeks to identify developing issues and alert the public to those issues.

JSEIT has not yet identified any specific emerging issues or transactions that it is investigating. Rather, it receives input from various sources, such as the public and IRS personnel, as to emerging issues to keep an eye on. One example of input from the public is a June 28, 2022, letter from a retired certified public accountant discussing “multinational profit-shifting structures” and Internal Revenue Code Section 482 and the application of effectively connecting income taxation.

JSEIT also looks to social media and ideas that are posted on the internet. This is consistent with the actions of LB&I examination teams, which frequently look to US Securities and Exchange Commission filings and LinkedIn profits and posts to gain background information on corporate taxpayers and their operations.

The IRS Office of Chief Counsel is also involved in JSEIT. Chief Counsel attorneys sometimes hear about a new transaction from a tax practitioner or an examination team and can bring that to JSEIT so that it is aware of the new transaction. This allows Chief Counsel attorneys to be involved early on and to provide guidance to examination teams as to what transactions it believes are compliant and which are not. For example, Chief Counsel attorneys can tell revenue agents what to look for in an emerging issue and what information to request from the taxpayer to gain a better understanding of the transaction.

As we recently discussed, the IRS is set to receive significant funding that will be deployed to improve taxpayer service and enhance tax compliance. JSEIT may benefit from this increased funding and be able to identify more issues on which to focus and the most effective [...]

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IRS Chief Counsel Signals Increased Tax Enforcement

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Chief Counsel is the chief legal advisor to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Laws. In this regard, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel is responsible for litigating cases in the US Tax Court. Such cases can arise from examinations conducted by different divisions within the IRS, such as the Large Business & International (LB&I), Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE), Tax Exempt & Government Entities (TE/GE) and Wage & Investment (W&I) Divisions.

On January 21, 2022, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel announced plans to hire up to 200 additional attorneys to assist with litigation efforts. The announcement specifically notes that new hires are necessary “to help the agency combat syndicated conservation easements, abusive micro-captive insurance arrangements and other tax schemes.” They will also help the IRS manage its increasing caseload as part of its multiyear effort to combat what it believes are abusive schemes and to ensure that the appropriate taxes and penalties are paid. The new hires will be located around the country and focus on audits of complex corporate and partnership issues.

Additionally, there are a significant number of cases before the Tax Court that involve conservation easements and micro-captive insurance arrangements. The IRS’s attack on the donation of conservation easements is well known in the tax world. To date, the IRS has largely been successful in these cases based on non-valuation arguments that easement deeds do not comply with the applicable regulations. However, in the recent Hewitt v. Commissioner case, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dealt a significant blow when it held that the IRS’s interpretation of Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii) was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the US Department of the Treasury failed to respond to significant comments submitted during the notice-and-comment process. Many conservation easements are within the Eleventh Circuit’s jurisdiction and other appellate courts are expected to weigh in soon, which could result in the IRS and taxpayers proceeding to trial on valuation issues. Valuation issues are inherently fact intensive and will require the IRS to utilize substantial resources to litigate.

Practice Point: Much has been written about the trend of decreased enforcement by the IRS over the past several years, owing in part to decreased or stagnant funding from US Congress. Tax litigation, particularly in fact intensive cases involving valuation issues and transactions the IRS (but not necessarily the courts) deemed abusive, requires the expenditure of substantial resources by the IRS. The IRS has signaled that it is ready to reverse the trend. All IRS tax controversies start with the examination of the taxpayer’s positions on the return. We have seen an increase in IRS audit activity in the last year or so, especially with medium-sized businesses and high-net-worth individuals. The Chief Counsel is assembling his “army” to litigate positions developed during the examination. It’s a good time for taxpayers [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup August 24 – August 28, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of August 24, 2020 – August 28, 2020. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

August 24 2020: The IRS published a memorandum concerning guidance to the field on the criteria that should be applied in considering if a request for designation for litigation should be made to the Office of Chief Counsel. The memorandum also provides interim guidance on the requirements of Section 1001 of the Taxpayer First Act (TFA) with respect to the limitation on designation of cases as not eligible for referral to the IRS Independent Office of Appeals.

August 25, 2020: The IRS published a Summer 2020 Statistics of Income Bulletin. The Summer 2020 Bulletin focuses individual income tax shares, 2017; foreign recipients of US income, calendar year 2017; effects of post-filing adjustments on Statistics of Income (SOI) estimates; and implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

August 25, 2020: The IRS published a practice unit focusing on the definition of foreign earned income for purposes of section 911.

August 26, 2020: The IRS published a notice and request for comments on Treasury Decision 8702 concerning certain transfers of domestic stock or securities by US persons to foreign corporations. The regulation relates to certain transfers of stock or securities of domestic corporations pursuant to the corporate organization, reorganization or liquidation provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Transfers of stock or securities by US persons in tax-free transactions are treated as taxable transactions when the acquirer is a foreign corporation, unless an exception applies under section 367(a). The regulation provides that no US person will qualify for an exception unless the US target company complies with certain reporting requirements. The comments should be received on or before October 26, 2020.

August 26, 2020: The IRS published a notice and request for comments on Treasury Decision 8612 concerning the availability of the gift and estate tax marital deduction when the donee spouse or the surviving spouse is not a US citizen. The regulation provides guidance to individuals or fiduciaries: (1) for making a qualified domestic trust election on the estate tax return of a decedent whose surviving spouse is not a US citizen in order that the estate may obtain the marital deduction; and (2) for filing the annual returns that such an election may require. The comments should be received on or before October 26, 2020.

August 27, 2020: The IRS published an announcement on the opening of the application period for the 2021 Compliance Assurance Process program. The application period runs September 1 to November 13, 2020. The IRS will inform applicants if they’re accepted into the program in February 2021.

August 28, 2020: The IRS published
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Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism

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. (more…)




ABA Section of Taxation Response to Recent Changes to IRS Appeals

We have covered on several occasions the changes in the past year to the IRS Appeals process. See here, here, here, here and here. The reactions from taxpayers and practitioners to the recent changes has, for the most part, been negative.

On May 9, 2017, the American Bar Association Section of Taxation provided comments to the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service regarding the recent changes at IRS Appeals (Comments). The comments, which can be found here, can be summarized as follows:

  • First, we recommend that Appeals reinstate the long-standing Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) provision regarding limited circumstances for attendance by representatives of the Service’s Examination divisions (Compliance) and the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) at settlement conferences.
  • Second, we recommend that Appeals return the option for face-to-face settlement conferences to taxpayers.
  • Third, we recommend that Appeals publicly reaffirm that independent Appeals Technical Employees may, in all cases, evaluate the hazards of litigation on positions taken by Counsel.
  • Fourth, we offer some observations and suggestions regarding informal issue coordination in Appeals.
  • Fifth, we support the recent reaffirmation of Appeals Team Case Leader (ATCL) unilateral settlement authority.
  • Finally, we reiterate our recent comments with respect to docketed cases in Appeals’ jurisdiction.

Practice Point: We are observing many of the same changes in practices that are discussed in the Comments. Taxpayers and their advisors need to understand and be prepared for the different procedures and approaches being employed at IRS Appeals. These changes appear to be leading down a road where settlements may be more difficult to accomplish and, as a result, we may see an increase in tax litigation.




IRS Announces New Chief of IRS Appeals

In further changes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals Division, it was recently announced that Donna C. Hansberry will replace Kirsten B. Wielobob as chief of IRS Appeals. Ms. Hansberry is currently the deputy commissioner of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division. She started as a trial attorney for the IRS Office of Chief Counsel in 1987 and was previously assistant to the commissioner (attorney-advisor for tax). Ms. Weilobob will move to the position of deputy commissioner for services and enforcement.

There have been very significant changes to IRS Appeals during the last several months that challenge whether the division will continue to be a successful tool for taxpayers and the IRS to resolve difficult cases that are stuck at the Exam Division. The “changing of the guard” may be a sign of more changes to come. Indeed, Ms. Hansberry was formerly a trial attorney and was in charge of the Joint International Tax Shelter Information Centre, director of global high wealth and abusive transactions. For prior coverage on changes at IRS Appeals, see our previous articles:

“More Changes to IRS Appeals Procedures”

“IRS Appeals – Changes Afoot?”

“IRS Updates Rules Regarding Appeals Conferences”




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