February 26, 2016 Let's Confer

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen Addresses International Conference on Taxpayer Rights

By Derek B. Wagner, Pro Bono Counsel, ABA Section of Taxation, Washington, DC

On November 18 and 19, 2015, tax professionals gathered at the National Archives in Washington for the first-ever International Conference on Taxpayer Rights. Over the course of this two-day event, panels composed of scholars, practitioners, and government officials from nearly a dozen countries explored the relationship between a country's tax agency and its taxpayers and the role of taxpayer rights as a foundation for effective tax administration.

A prevailing theme was the importance of trust between taxpayers and the state. Although the coercive arm of the state backs tax collection, a tax system functions more effectively when taxpayers comply voluntarily, and voluntary compliance depends on taxpayers' trusting that the administration of the tax laws will be fair and just. Panelists focused on means by which such trust is achieved, including administrative and judicial review processes, taxpayer bills of rights, and taxpayer advocates or ombudspersons.

U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue John Koskinen addressed the Conference on the first day. Echoing sentiments expressed by a number of panelists, Commissioner Koskinen focused on the importance of public confidence in tax administration. In the Commissioner's view, there are two primary elements of effective tax administration: service and enforcement. Historically, most of the U.S. effort has been on enforcement, yet the amounts brought in by enforcement pale in comparison to the revenues from voluntary compliance. The Service's efforts to enforce and collect taxes bring in approximately $60 billion in revenue each year, while voluntary compliance yields approximately $3.1 trillion. With so much of the tax system reliant on voluntary compliance, lack of faith in the system represents a serious threat to the system's integrity and threatens its effectiveness. A greater focus on providing quality service and improving the experiences of the vast majority of taxpayers who attempt to follow the law voluntarily is needed—particularly in the current anti-IRS political environment. Believing that every successful interaction with individual taxpayers, no matter how small, improves public confidence in the tax system, the Commissioner highlighted efforts currently being undertaken within the Service to help taxpayers and protect their rights.

The Commissioner's remarks focused on the IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is not a newly established set of rights: the webpage merely compiles various taxpayer rights scattered throughout the Internal Revenue Code provisions and presents them in a clear and easily accessible list. 1 Commissioner Koskinen emphasized that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is becoming a more visible part of the Service, as part of a concerted effort to make taxpayers more familiar with their rights and comfortable with asserting them. Efforts include updates to Publication 1 – Your Rights as a Taxpayer, which is now included with a wide range of Service notifications sent to taxpayers; updates to the Service's internal procedures; a new page called Taxpayer Bill of Rights on the IRS website focusing on taxpayer rights; and generally putting taxpayer rights at the forefront. It is clear that this Commissioner has concluded that a focus on fairness, taxpayer rights, and improved service will promote confidence in the system, increased compliance, and better tax administration.

More information about the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights can be found on the Conference website. All of the panels, including Commissioner Koskinen's remarks, will soon be available on the National Taxpayer Advocate YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/TASNTA

In addition, the following conference papers will be published in the Spring 2016 issue of The Tax Lawyer: Alice G. Abreu and Richard K. Greenstein, Tax as Everylaw: Interpretation, Enforcement, and the Legitimacy of the IRS; Amanda Bartmann, Making Taxpayer Rights Real: Overcoming Challenges to Integrate Taxpayer Rights into a Tax Agency's Operations; Leslie Book, Bureaucratic Oppression and the Tax System; and Keith Fogg, How Can Tax Collection be Structured to Observe and Preserve Taxpayer Rights: A Discussion of Practices and Possibilities.

Day One:

Welcome Remarks

Panel 1 - Taxpayer Rights: A Roadmap for Effective Tax Administration

Panel 2 – The Right to be Informed: Transparency and Tax Administration

Remarks from the IRS Commissioner

Panel 3 – The Rights to Confidentiality and Privacy in an Age of Transparency

Panel 4 – The Right to Appeal to an Independent Forum: A Conversation with the Judiciary

Day Two:

Panel 1 – Taxpayer Rights, Due Process, and Procedural Justice

Keynote Address – Slippery Slope Framework: The Impact of Power and Trust on Taxpayer Compliance Behavior

Panel 2 – Fostering Voluntary Compliance: A Conversation with Tax Administrators

Panel 3 – The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

Panel 4 – Challenges in "Operationalizing" Taxpayer Rights

Closing Remarks ■


1 Note, however, that a version of the Service's Taxpayer Bill of Rights was also included at section 401 of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, enacted in December 2015.