On March 6, 2019, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig met with a group of 15 tax practitioners, including CPAs, attorneys and enrolled agents, at the Austin IRS service center. TXCPA members in attendance were Lara Akinboye, Gary Brown, Julie Dale, Ira Lipstet, Christi Mondrik, and Jaime Vasquez.
Rettig was also in Austin to conduct town hall meetings with service center employees.
The Commissioner’s Life and Family
As many of the practitioners were aware, Rettig served 36 years as a tax controversy attorney with a practice in Beverly Hills, California.
His wife was a Vietnamese refugee who was inside the U.S. Embassy when it fell in 1975. She escaped and sold tobacco leaves on the street as a small child to support her family. Her father was taken to a “reeducation camp” where he lost one eye and became severely disabled before escaping. After moving to the U.S., Rettig’s wife was an auditor with the California Franchise Tax Board for 10 years. As immigrants, it was a proud moment for her family to file their first tax returns after arriving safely in the U.S.
He spoke about his son whose military service in the United States Army resulted in two deployments and living in a shipping container in the desert where there was a hotbed of terrorist activity. His daughter is a veterinarian.
The commissioner’s nomination and induction into office was a very proud moment for him and his family, as he is now able to join his son in serving his country. While he acknowledged that he does not necessarily know what it is like to be in their shoes, he did say it helps give him perspective.
The Importance of Service to Taxpayers
Rettig realizes that IRS tax revenue represents around 93 percent of the U.S. gross revenue. He realizes the needs of low income, ESL (English as a second language) and unrepresented taxpayers. More resources are needed to serve those who are unrepresented or underrepresented. He has also been working to enhance the IRS’ multilingual sensitivity.
Customer service is very important to him. Recently, he listened to telephone call etiquette at the Atlanta, Georgia service center. He heard IRS representatives field calls about refund issues and noted their conversational and friendly tones with individuals whose refunds were critical to the well-being of the taxpayers and their families. The care that employees took in seeking to resolve taxpayers’ issues was as unobtrusive as possible.
He also showed up on a Saturday for Pro Bono Day in D.C., where IRS volunteers addressed 14 cases; two revenue officers and low-income taxpayer clinic representatives volunteered to spend part of their weekend helping taxpayers. The volunteers resolved 12 of the 14 cases.
The Government Shutdown
The 35-day government shutdown hit the IRS’ 80,000 employees hard. Rettig held daily calls with the executive management team dealing with issues like furloughed employees who could not pay their childcare bills or receive unemployment compensation. The Department of Labor was denying unemployment claims, because the workers would eventually get paid when the government reopened.
The Filing Season
Despite all odds, the filing season has run smoothly. Lots of tax returns are being filed and lots of refunds issued. The IRS set a record this season in the most returns processed per hour. (Statistics are posted every Thursday.)
The IRS still lacks resources. The productivity it has achieved with limited resources is a direct result of the care, dedication, desire and pride of the workforce. Rettig eats lunch with the employees in the cafeteria each day so he can get to know them better. He has great conversations about career goals and other important topics.
Top Priority: Enforcement
Criminal investigation is an important investment tool. The IRS is using the tools it has to make surgical strikes. The indictment season is open until April 15. Rettig recognizes the indictment season from his years in practice representing taxpayers in criminal investigations.
Now, he is on the enforcement side and it is a top priority. He acknowledges that most taxpayers make a reasonable attempt to properly file a correct tax return and he does not want to punish them for trying their best. However, people who intentionally cross the line should be concerned that he is commissioner.
The IRS needs modernization. His goal is to maximize resources using collective ideas. The IRS is piloting a customer callback program like those available at some insurance companies. You can call, leave a message, get a call back and not lose your place in the queue.
Its IT department is thwarting up to 3 million daily cyber threats, requiring staff to work as creatively and efficiently as possible with limited resources. The IRS is fighting for funding. Rettig has participated in frequent one-on-one meetings with legislators. They are also looking for ways to collaborate with big companies for IT internships.
Part of the Solution
Rettig appreciates the support from the practitioner community; tax professionals are part of the solution … they help streamline the process. Working with qualified tax professionals makes everyone’s job more efficient.
The best thing practitioners can do to help the IRS improve is to say something positive about the IRS workforce when you see them doing good things. The dedication and care of the workforce is more than we realize. Nice comments go a long way.