Recipient of the 2019 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award: Nina E. Olson
At the Midyear Tax Meeting of the Section of Taxation of the American Bar Association, held in New Orleans on January 18-19, 2019, the Section recognized Nina E. Olson as the winner of the 2019 Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award.
Nina (as she is known to all) currently leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service. She is a tireless advocate for taxpayers in general and low-income taxpayers in particular. Her efforts led to major tax reforms that continue to positively affect low-income taxpayers throughout the country.
2018 marked the 20th anniversary of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (the “RRA 98”). The RRA 98 established new rights for taxpayers and began an institutional shift in the manner in which the IRS interacts with taxpayers. No one has been more instrumental in realizing the potential of RRA 98 than Nina Olson.
Prior to her appointment as the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina founded and served as Executive Director of The Community Tax Law Project, the first independent 501(c)(3) low-income taxpayer clinic (LITC) in the United States. While in that role, Nina, along with Janet Spragens, conceived of and ensured the passage of Section 7526 of the Internal Revenue Code, which establishes matching grants for low-income taxpayer clinics. Nina and Janet Spragens discussed their initial thinking about the role of tax clinics in the welfare-to-work era in a September 2000 Tax Notes article which motivated the first round of applicants from legal services programs to include federal income tax controversy in the legal services practice. There are currently 135 clinics providing direct representation of low-income taxpayers in tax disputes and engaging in systemic advocacy. Clinics are also the vehicle for scores of tax lawyers in private practice to provide pro bono representation for needy taxpayers. Tax clinics have fundamentally transformed the world of pro bono representation in tax cases, and Nina Olson is a key player in that, not only through the enactment of Section 7526 of the Code, but also through her oversight of the LITC program.