November 16, 2018 From the Chair

The Tax Section Serving the Tax System

By Eric Solomon, Ernst & Young LLP, Washington, DC

Atlanta Meeting

The Tax Section held its Fall Tax Meeting with the Trust & Estate Division of the Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Section in Atlanta on October 4-6.  Over 950 people attended.  There was much to discuss, especially the recent regulatory guidance relating to the 2017 Tax Act, including the proposed regulations regarding the new 20% deduction for sole proprietors and owners of pass-through businesses (section 199A of the Code), as well as proposed regulations and expected guidance regarding international tax issues.

As a continuing benefit, registered attendees at Tax Section meetings can access the complete set of meeting materials by clicking on a zip file that was distributed by e-mail after the meeting.  In addition, whether you attended the Atlanta meeting or not, all Tax Section members have complimentary access to all the written materials from past meetings, including the Atlanta meeting, on the website: (1) in a static database called TaxIQ, which is organized by meeting and committee name, and (2) in a database on Westlaw made available as a member benefit from the Tax Section’s publishing sponsor, Thomson Reuters.  Both options can be accessed from the TaxIQ page, at ambar.org/taxiq.  Audio recordings of individual sessions are available through our outside digital conference partner, DCP, at http://www.dcprovidersonline.com/abatx/.

Featured Speaker at the Atlanta Meeting

The featured speaker at the plenary session on Saturday, October 6 was Lafayette G. (Chip) Harter, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs at the U.S. Treasury Department.  Mr. Harter is playing a leading role in international tax guidance, and represents the United States in its dealings with foreign governments and the OECD.  Mr. Harter shared his insights about developments in U.S. international taxation and around the world.  He discussed the expected timing for issuance of various proposed regulations relating to the 2017 Tax Act.  He noted that some regulations will be finalized by the end of 2018 and others by June 2019.  He observed that other countries have focused on aspects of the 2017 Tax Act, such as the tax on global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI), to serve as a potential model for laws that will discourage multinational companies from shifting profits to low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions.  You can listen to Mr. Harter’s remarks here.

Pro Bono and Public Service

As the largest national member organization of tax professionals, the Tax Section has an important role to promote the advancement of a fair tax system by providing assistance to those who cannot afford it.  I am pleased to report that under the vigorous leadership of Bahar Schippel, our Vice Chair for Pro Bono and Outreach, the Tax Section is active on many fronts in tax-related pro bono matters.  Tax Section pro bono activities include: (1) the Elder Law Initiative, which provides tax assistance to the elderly; (2) the Adopt-A-Base program, which helps military personnel prepare their tax returns; (3) the Partnering for Pro Bono program, in which volunteer attorneys work with low-income taxpayer clinics; (4) the Calendar Call program, in which volunteer attorneys provide national coverage at Tax Court calendar calls; (5) the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where practitioners help prepare tax returns for low-income taxpayers; (6) pro bono CLE webinars, where experienced low-income tax practitioners share their knowledge and experience; and (7) assistance to victims of natural disasters, where volunteers advise affected individuals regarding the tax implications of their losses. 

The Tax Section excels at mobilizing and preparing members to address unmet tax-related needs of the underserved population throughout the country.  We are prepared to respond to requests to link tax professionals with specific opportunities to provide services.  We also excel at providing training and mentoring to those members ready and willing to serve, but who may not have the necessary background and expertise to address issues faced by the underserved population.  The Tax Section is maximizing its pro bono impact by: (1) providing education and training to practitioners interested in participating in pro bono work; (2) providing resources and mentorship for practitioners in their pro bono activities; (3) connecting members to pro bono opportunities, (4) elevating the profile of pro bono work for tax practitioners nationally; and (5) raising funds for the Tax Assistance Public Service (TAPS) endowment and administering the Christine A. Brunswick Public Interest Tax Fellowship (which enables new tax professionals to spend two years providing services to low-income taxpayers).

As mentioned above, one of the Tax Section’s pro bono activities is the Elder Law Initiative, started by our Immediate Past Chair Karen Hawkins.  The Tax Section is hosting an event on November 16 in Pittsburgh featuring tax consultations, assistance from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service office, healthcare powers of attorney, and referrals.

Also as mentioned above, Tax Section members participate in the VITA program.  We encourage members to participate in VITA as a convenient and effective form of providing tax services.  VITA volunteers prepare tax returns for free for low-income taxpayers through an IRS-sponsored national initiative.  Free training is provided for all volunteers, so no advanced knowledge is required.  Registration is happening now.

As part of its pro bono efforts, the Tax Section provides tax assistance after disasters.  The Tax Section is focusing on creating materials that can be used by tax professionals in affected areas following a disaster.  For example, our website includes free recordings of sessions on disaster response from recent meetings.  Our website also includes links to several publications regarding disaster tax assistance, including the chapter called “Assisting Disaster Survivors” in the 7th Edition of the Tax Section publication, Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS.  On October 25, the Tax Section participated in the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono week by offering a free webinar on the tax issues facing disaster survivors and how to assist with appeals of FEMA denials.  You can listen to this webinar here.

Pro Bono Pledge Program

As part of our efforts to elevate the profile of pro bono work, the Tax Section has officially launched a Pro Bono Pledge program.  The goal is to encourage Tax Section members to perform pro bono work or make a donation to the TAPS fund.  There is a simple form that can be completed online or by filling out a card at a meeting.

For those who commit to provide pro bono hours, volunteer opportunities will be circulated as they become available.  Activity pursuant to the pledge is self-reporting and runs from one May meeting to the next.  Those who pledge will receive an email in April asking them to report their pro bono hours.  Those who provide pro bono assistance or make a contribution to TAPS will be recognized in the program for the Celebrate Pro Bono Reception at the May meeting and on the Tax Section website.  Please consider making a Pro Bono Pledge!

If you have any questions about the Tax Section’s pro bono activities, please reach out to Bahar Schippel (bschippel@swlaw.com), or Meg Newman, the Tax Section’s Counsel responsible for pro bono activities (megan.newman@americanbar.org).

Christine A. Brunswick Public Interest Tax Fellows

I am pleased to report that the 2018-2020 class of Christine A. Brunswick Public Interest Tax Fellows began their positions in the first week of September.  Anastasia Kolosova is working with the Accounting Aid Society in Detroit MI to conduct outreach and education activities for vulnerable populations in Detroit and expand the organization’s ability to provide legal representation to low-income taxpayers.  Omeed Firouzi is working with Philadelphia Legal Assistance to provide education and legal assistance to workers misclassified as independent contractors and conduct advocacy and awareness efforts to decrease the practice among employers in Philadelphia.

Anastasia and Omeed join Catherine Martin, our Fellow for 2017-2019.  Catherine has been working with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, providing legal representation to low-income individuals facing tax foreclosure of their properties. Read her interview in this issue.

Comment Letters

As a result of the enactment of the 2017 Tax Act, the Treasury Department and IRS are busy drafting and issuing interpretive guidance.  The Tax Section has been preparing and submitting comments, including on the proposed regulations under section 199A and the proposed regulations on deemed repatriation of untaxed offshore earnings (section 965).  The Tax Section has also recently submitted comments about the proposed new Form 1040.  The Treasury Department and IRS highly value Tax Section comments and read them carefully.  There are many projects to work on and much work to do, so please volunteer to join a comments project.  It’s a great way to connect with other Tax Section members with similar interests and participate in an important task that helps make the tax system function better.

Publications

As previously reported, under the skillful efforts of Julie Divola, the previous Vice Chair for Publications, and Anne Dunn, the previous Director of Publishing, the Tax Section negotiated an agreement whereby the Northwestern University Tax LL.M. program succeeded Georgetown University as the collaborating partner in the publication of The Tax Lawyer.  On September 21, Keith Fogg (our new Vice Chair for Publications and Editor-in-Chief), Bill Lyons (Associate Editor-in-Chief) and Todd Reitzel (the Tax Section’s new Director of Publishing) visited Northwestern to meet with David Cameron (the Northwestern professor serving as Faculty Editor) and the student editorial board.

We are pleased to report that the transition to Northwestern is progressing smoothly.  The Georgetown students worked diligently through this past summer to complete their final issue, and Northwestern has recruited a team of LL.M. students who have started editing the Fall 2018 issue.  The Tax Section and Northwestern are excited about the new collaboration.

Financial Situation

The Tax Section has made considerable strides to improve its financial situation.  In recent years, the Tax Section has had significant operating deficits.  In the past couple of years, the Tax Section has been compelled to reduce expenses, which has resulted in painful belt-tightening.  In addition, during the fiscal year that ended this past August, our Tax Section staff had openings, which reduced our salary expenses.  We have also increased our revenues, primarily from our meetings, webinars and sponsorships. 

I am pleased to report that for the fiscal year that ended in August, the Tax Section had a small net surplus, the first in many years.  I extend my hearty thanks to former chairs Bill Caudill and Karen Hawkins for their efforts in this turnaround.  We will need to stay vigilant to ensure that we maintain financial stability in the years ahead.

Association New Membership Model

At the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago in August, the Board of Governors and House of Delegates adopted a new membership model to increase ABA membership.  The new model includes a revised Association dues structure, which will reduce the number of categories of Association dues and will lower Association dues for younger practitioners and solo/small firm practitioners.  The new dues structure will be effective for the fiscal year starting in September 2019.  Dues to join the Tax Section, which are in addition to Association dues, will remain at $75 per year.

Although not part of the dues resolution adopted in August, increasing the value of ABA membership is a critical element of the new membership model.  A new large library of free online content for ABA members will be created.  The Tax Section will contribute to this library, which will have three parts: (1) material available to the public, such as contact information and marketing material; (2) content available to all ABA members, such as basic substantive material; and (3) content available only to a Section’s own members.  ABA members who are not Tax Section members will have a limited number of opportunities per month to access matter in the third category (material that is generally available only to Tax Section members).  The new online library is expected to be ready at the time the new dues structure is initiated.  We are receiving direction from the Association about what, when and how the Tax Section will contribute to the online library.

Tax Section Membership

Similar to the Association, the Tax Section is also concerned about membership.  Over the past several years there has been a decline in Tax Section membership.  The future of the Tax Section depends on increasing the number of members.  We need to adapt to provide benefits attractive to the changing needs of our members.  We need to increase the number of practitioners in all categories, especially younger practitioners, who hopefully will become Tax Section members for many years.  We are focusing on steps we can take to make membership as attractive as possible.

Diversity and Inclusion

As part of the recent update of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Plan, the Tax Section has formed a Diversity in the Profession Committee (DIPC) to oversee implementation of the D&I Plan.  Recent activities of the DIPC include placement of signs at the Atlanta meeting emphasizing the commitment of the Tax Section to diversity and inclusion, with a link to the D&I Plan (ambar.org/taxdiversity).  In addition, the DIPC is initiating a project to examine the role of committee liaisons to the Tax Section’s Diversity Committee and how the liaisons can be more effective.

The Diversity Committee hosts a luncheon and three CLE programs at each Tax Section meeting.  Please consider sponsoring the luncheon or a program at a future Tax Section meeting.  In addition, the Diversity Committee is seeking CLE program ideas for the upcoming Midyear and May Tax Meetings.  Please contact the chair of the Diversity Committee, Lany Villalobos, at lanylv@alumni.upenn.edu to share your ideas or get involved.

IRS Commissioner

It is with sadness that we note the passing of Sheldon Cohen, who was IRS Commissioner from 1965 to 1969.  He first worked at the IRS during the enactment of the 1954 Code, soon after graduating from law school.  He went from the IRS to private practice, where he helped set up the first Presidential blind trust, for Lyndon Johnson.  In 1964 he returned to the IRS to serve as Chief Counsel before being named as Commissioner by President Johnson.  Among his many accomplishments, Commissioner Cohen is noted for bringing computer technology to the IRS.  He was a Tax Section member for more than 50 years and served on several Tax Section Committees.

We also wish to congratulate Chuck Rettig on his confirmation as the new IRS Commissioner.  Chuck was a partner with Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, P.C. in Beverly Hills, California.  Commissioner Rettig joined the Tax Section in 1981, and most recently served as Vice Chair for Administration (2015 to 2018).  He previously was a Council Director (2012 to 2015) and Chair of the Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties Committee (2009 to 2011).  He also co-chaired the Tax Section’s annual Criminal Tax Fraud Conference (from 2010 to 2017).  We especially want to thank him for his recent efforts as a member of the team that addressed the financial situation of the Tax Section. 

New Orleans

The Tax Section Midyear Tax Meeting will be held on January 17-19, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans.  We look forward to seeing you there.  I promise there will be a lot to talk about!


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