By Dave R. Stubblefield, Enrolled Agent, Michael D. Williams, CPA-Panhandle and Kenneth M. Horwitz, JD, CPA-Dallas
Both the examination and collection sides of the Appeals offices based in north Texas are not unlike IRS offices nationwide, way understaffed and underfunded for case-related travel to permit face-to-face meetings on unique or complicated issues. This is directly impacting management’s decisions on whether to grant face-to-face meeting requests. It puts taxpayers and their representatives at a great disadvantage. In addition, the absence of face-to-face meetings substantially increases professional fees and extends the time line in which to resolve cases.
Jeanette Ingram, SB/SE appeals team manager (exam), Dallas, will transition soon from her case management position to an Appeals knowledge resource team. Her four remaining staff will be reassigned to Steve Lacey, Austin. Carla Washington, also appeals team manager (exam), will still be in Dallas. Although the exam side of Appeals tries to accommodate all face-to-face requests, it remains to be seen how these changes, along with other caseload re-distributions, will impact requests in the local area going forward.
Gina Smith, SB/SE appeals team manager (collection), Dallas, is down to two settlement officers who specialize in trust fund recovery penalty and offer in compromise cases, probably the most difficult cases to resolve in face-to-face meetings, much less via telephone or correspondence. During a recent meeting with TSCPA’s Relations with IRS Committee and other tax professionals, Smith indicated that on collection due process cases, face-to-face requests cannot always be met due to staff problems and alignment of expertise. The IRS’s position is that if the taxpayer does not provide information for a productive hearing or the collection Appeals work inventory is out of balance, a face-to-face will not be granted. Taxpayers and representatives wanting a face-to-face may have to travel across Texas, or possibly to Oklahoma, to the Appeals officer’s location, since the IRS has not budgeted funds to cover Appeals “circuit riding.” The IRS follows the same procedures for post-Appeals mediation. They are also dependent on staff allocation, location of the taxpayer and representative, and the volume of case work. Taxpayers may wish to consider appeal denial of a face-to-face meeting with Appeals, either with a settlement officer or Appeals officer, to the appropriate supervisor of the respective Appeals manager in charge of the case.
The IRS has established Virtual Service Delivery (VSD) teleconferencing in campus Appeals. We understand that these VSD systems are now located in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio for virtual “face-to-face” meetings from remote locations. In order for this approach to be effective, the IRS must ensure that quality equipment and transmission techniques are used for quality audio and video reception and that IRS personnel are properly trained. By the same token, the taxpayer and their representative must have similar quality equipment and reception capabilities and be trained to effectively use this approach.
The bottom line is that if the IRS cannot overcome these growing deficiencies in the area of resolving tax disputes in Appeals, the objectives in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights can never be fully achieved.