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October 29, 2015 From the Chair

A Good Start

By George C. Howell, III, Hunton & Williams, LLP, Richmond, VA

I am pleased to report that the Tax Section's 2015-2016 year is off to a productive start.  I am excited by all that the Section, its members, and its staff are accomplishing. Beyond the usual high level of government submissions and pro bono activity, there are a number of items that I want to highlight for you.

ABA Tax Times

I am delighted to announce the inaugural issue of ABA Tax Times (formerly NewsQuarterly), the Section's new, all-digital publication. Under the leadership of a new Supervising Editor, Linda M. Beale, together with Julie Divola, our Vice-Chair (Publications), and Anne Dunn and the rest of the publications staff, we are working hard to bring the Section's publications into the 21st century. I hope you enjoy the enhanced format, which includes links to cited source material and other information, as well as audio and video clips for related content. To this end, I invite you to watch my first video message as Chair and to send us your feedback at [email protected].

Fall Meeting

Our Joint Fall CLE Meeting with the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section (RPTE) in Chicago was successful and well attended by members of both Sections. Once again, best-in-class CLE programming was everywhere. On Friday and Saturday, I sat in on portions of a number of committee CLE panels, all of which were well done. In particular, I want to highlight the programs put on by our Diversity Committee and Young Lawyers Forum (YLF). If you have not attended one of their CLE panels in the past, I urge you to do so at the Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles. I am confident that you will find it to be a rewarding experience.

Another highlight of the Fall Meeting was the remarks of Nina Olson, the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate, at the plenary lunch on Saturday. Nina's commentary is always well conceived and thought-provoking, but her description of the current state of our tax system and the existential challenges that it faces was the most accurate (and chilling) that I have heard. It seems clear that the low level of taxpayer service brought on by budget cuts and other factors is corroding our voluntary assessment tax system, which is the engine of our federal government and, in my view, one of the crown jewels of our republic. Nina believes that, once trust in the tax system is lost, it cannot be regained, and that continued corrosion will bring us to that point of no return sooner, rather than later. Unfortunately, I think she is right. Her remarks should be a clarion call to action.

In the course of her remarks, Nina announced that she will hold public hearings around the country during 2016 to gather information and feedback about the IRS's ongoing service problems and the impact that they are having on taxpayers. She also will ask for input on how the IRS should operate in the future. We in the Tax Section should do everything that we can, both individually and collectively, to support Nina's efforts to focus attention on, and begin a search for solutions to, the difficult problems faced by the IRS and our tax system.

I want to thank the Section's staff, led by Janet In, for all that they did to make the Fall Meeting a success. Although the staff's hard work is largely behind the scenes, it is what makes our meetings run so smoothly. As a Section, we are fortunate to have such a talented, tireless, and effective staff.

Cooperation with RPTE

The Tax Section and RPTE have much in common. This commonality is illustrated by the fact that there are almost 4,000 Tax Section members who are also members of RPTE. Since 2003, we have successfully conducted joint fall meetings with RPTE. As the two Sections have considered ways to expand their cooperative relationship, cross-marketing of membership has seemed like a logical next step. I am pleased to announce that RPTE has agreed to offer a free, one-year membership to all Tax Section members who are not currently RPTE members. The offer will run through December 31 and will apply to the 2015-2016 fiscal year, which ends August 31, 2016. The Tax Section will make the same offer to RPTE members who are not currently Tax Section members. If you have not already received information about this offer, you will shortly. I urge you to take advantage of this wonderful member benefit.

TAPS Endowment Task Force

As you undoubtedly have heard, the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment has been established to assure long-term funding for the Brunswick Fellowships and the Section's other pro bono and public service efforts. I have created a task force to formulate and execute our fund-raising strategy for the TAPS endowment. The task force is expected to remain in existence for approximately five years with the members serving two-year terms. The task force will be chaired each year by the Section Chair and will have three other ex officio members—the Immediate Past Chair, the Chair-Elect, and the Section Director. Fourteen other appointed members bring the total membership to 18.

The Section has raised more than $275,000 in gifts and pledges to date, but we have a long way to go to achieve our goal of $2.5 million. This is an ambitious objective, but I know that we can achieve it with your support. Guided by the task force, a more visible fund-raising campaign will begin soon. Please respond generously when you are contacted. Tax-deductible contributions to the TAPS endowment are made through the ABA Fund for Justice and Education.

Pro Bono Opportunity

Over the years, the Tax Section has established a variety of participatory pro bono and public service programs for its members. As we draw closer to the end of the calendar year, I want to highlight the wonderful opportunity provided by the Section's Adopt-A-Base Military VITA Training Program. In this program, a law firm or group of volunteers "adopts" a nearby military base and agrees to provide training to both military personnel and civilians who will operate a VITA center on the base. The IRS formerly provided this training, but it can no longer do so because of budget cuts. I have participated in this program and can vouch for the enormous psychic benefits derived from helping our men and women in uniform. I strongly encourage you to respond affirmatively if you are contacted by Wells Hall, the Vice-Chair (Pro Bono and Outreach), or Derek Wagner, the Section's Pro Bono Counsel, about participating in this program. Better yet, take the initiative to contact Wells or Derek to let them know of your interest in Adopt-A-Base. To learn more about this and other tax–related pro bono opportunities, please refer to the Pro Bono Opportunities page on the Section's website or contact Derek B. Wagner.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Nolan Fellowships

As I previously have reported to you, the Tax Section's council has adopted an updated Diversity and Inclusion Plan, which is available on the Section's website. With the help of the Section officers, committee leadership, and the staff, implementation of the action steps laid out in the plan is well underway. One of the goals of the new plan is to increase our membership rolls by bringing in younger and more diverse members. The Diversity Committee and the YLF are playing key roles in helping the Section achieve that goal. I am pleased by the momentum that both are building. For example, the Diversity Committee/YLF reception at the Fall Meeting was one of the best attended that I have seen. We need to do everything possible to support these two vital branches of the Section, which will provide the foundation for our future health as a membership organization.

In that same vein, I want to remind everyone that the deadline for Nolan Fellowship nominations—December 4, 2015—will be here before we know it. Nolan Fellowships are a wonderful way to support and recognize the involvement of young and diverse lawyers in the Section. Please consider appropriate candidates that you may know and take the time to submit a nomination form. The criteria for selecting Nolan Fellows, the nomination form, and more information about the Fellowships can be found on the Section's website.

Withdrawal of House of Delegates Resolution

I am disappointed to report that the Section decided to withdraw ABA House of Delegates Resolution 101. This resolution urged Congress to undo the damage to the scope of Circular 230 done by the Loving and Ridgely cases. The resolution called for two legislative amendments—one to expand the scope of Circular 230 to allow regulation of non-lawyers in return preparation and a second one clarifying the authority of the Treasury Department to regulate all persons, including lawyers, who advise taxpayers with respect to the reporting of items on federal tax returns. Unfortunately, this latter provision was seen by many in the House of Delegates as running afoul of the ABA's longstanding position against federal regulation of lawyers. In light of this strong opposition, the Section reluctantly (but in my view wisely) decided to withdraw the resolution. I invite you to read the Remarks of Section Delegate Richard M. Lipton before the ABA House of Delegates on August 3, 2015 featured in this issue of ABA Tax Times, which also links to the full resolution and report available on the website.

Looking Forward

Two more CLE-packed meetings await us over the remainder of the 2015-2016 year—the Midyear Meeting and the May Meeting. I urge you to attend the Midyear Meeting, which will be held January 28-30 at the JW Marriott LA Live near downtown Los Angeles. I am confident that it will be a productive meeting for all who attend. I also hope that you will participate in some of the upcoming CLE programming that will occur outside of the Midyear and May Meetings. The quality and price of the Section's meetings and CLE is the best around.